Love Notes – Farming While Black, BUGS, Sovereignty and Solidarity

“I often feel disconnected from nature in my day-to-day life. As I prepare and eat the amazing food; drink in the beautiful photographs; read the inspiring, educational and uplifting writings, Soul Fire Farm Share membership has nourished me body, mind and soul. You have helped reconnect me to my holy mother earth in a way that I haven’t known since my youth.”

~ A message from one of our CSA members!

Farmer Ceci performing at the Farming While Black book release.

Farming While Black is officially out! We celebrated its release at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy. Damaris and Amani opened the event with a beautiful ceremony honoring our ancestors and the land. Trumastr DJ’ed; Naima, Amani, Alfonso, and Ceci performed; Taina showcased her amazing music video; and members of the Soul Fire Farm family read excerpts of the book after Leah gave an overview of it. Ria and Amy prepared delicious food while Neshima and Emet held down the T-shirt and book selling table, and throughout the night we enjoyed a beautiful slideshow of photographs of Soul Fire Farm’s history and present put together by Jonah. We are so excited that Farming While Black is available to our community!



Farmer Damaris with their daikon radish friend.

It’s finally here – the time of year when, thanks to Daylight Savings, the sun now sets at the same time we leave the fields. It’s strange to be immersed in darkness before 5pm. Now our days are cold, snowy, and dark – we got our first snowfall this week! It can be difficult in this weather to remember why we love to farm – at least it certainly has been for farmers Damaris and Lytisha – but when we receive lovely messages from our CSA members about how our vegetables and chicken are life changing (like the quote above) those affirmations remind us of the importance of our work. A visit from Daniel Tillias of SAKALA, the only youth community center in Cité Soleil, Haiti, also served as a wonderful reminder. Inspired by our work, he wants to start a sliding scale, low-income CSA in Cité Soleil, and Damaris and Larisa spent part of an afternoon sharing knowledge with him and learning from each other. Our CSA officially ended last week and we’ve been spending the last few weeks of the season putting the farm to rest for the winter. Jonah’s been working with members of the farm team the last few weeks to work on the unfinished cabin. Thanks to Larisa, we once again received our CNG, or certified naturally grown, certification in which an inspector comes to the farm and asks us about inputs we use; soil health and fertility; crop planning; water, weed, and pest management; and ways we are working towards being more sustainable. Students from Woodland Montessori came and helped us clean the rest of our onions. We planted garlic and onions to grow over the winter, are pasturing our hens on our empty beds to add fertility, and have been cleaning up the farm, with the help of the folks who came out for our final community farm day. We have also been meeting as a team to plan our programs, farm plans, and infrastructure changes for next year as well as sift through summer 2019 apprenticeship applications!

Part of the SFF team: Jess, Olive, Larisa, Leah, Lytisha, Amani, Damaris.

“History does not repeat itself; people repeat history.” These are some of the powerful words Monica White shared during her keynote at BUGS, the Black farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference in Durham, NC. They feel particularly relevant as trans, gender non-conforming, and intersex people are currently under attack by our administration, as well as in the aftermath of the horrific anti-Semitic shooting in Pittsburgh. The theme of the conference this year was “Roots and Resilience: Preserving Black Land and Reclaiming Self-determination.” Workshops on food preservation, storytelling, seed keeping, and financial independence, amongst many others, fit the theme well. Leah, who was the afternoon keynote speaker, reminded us that our struggles as Black people intersects with the struggles of indigenous folks’ whose land was taken and the farmworkers from Latin America who are exploited in agriculture today. All our oppression – from colonization, imperialism, white supremacy, cis-heteropatriarchy – is linked, and so must our fights for freedom be.

NESAWG panelists.

“It’s imperative in my realm of influence to at least act like we’re going to win.” That was Leah’s response to a question an audience member asked about fighting climate change after Leah’s lecture at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. At the lecture, which celebrated W. E. B. Du Bois, Leah and Ed Whitfield, co-founder and co-managing director of the Fund for Democratic Communities, talked about their work that builds on Du Bois’ legacy – commitment to black economic development, cooperative structures, fair access to land, and the relationship between the three. At Hampshire College, Leah joined Rukia Lumumba, Charles Taylor, and Iya’falola Omobola in a workshop about Black-lead cooperative economics, food sovereignty, and the role of environmental justice in the fight against racism and state violence. The liberation of our communities is directly tied to shifting our relationship to land, which is largely one of extraction and exploitation. At the NESAWG conference (Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group), Leah was part of a panel that discussed the importance of being in right relationship with the Earth for that reason. We currently live within a food system based in oppression of peoples and destruction of ecosystems. When our situation seems so dire, especially after the UN climate change report that recently came out, it can seem like we are fighting a never ending battle. We won’t know if we’ll win if we don’t try, though.

Hampshire College, “Jackson Rising” workshop.

Some of the work of undoing oppression in our food system is recognizing whose intellectual and physical labor this food system was built on. At the Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY, Leah delved into the rarely acknowledged African roots of sustainable farming practices, like the idea of growing food organically and the CSA model, as well as the decline in Black farmers and rise in diet-related illness in Black communities because of racism and discrimination. At the “Facing Race” Conference in Detroit, Kavitha Rao, who repped Soul Fire Farm, along with Julian Mocine-McQueen and Delma Thomas-Jackson, used storytelling and historical analysis to explore the impacts of displacement, gentrification, and environmental injustice and think about how our work for land sovereignty today is a continuation of our ancestor’s work. Amani hosted a workshop at the Youth Climate Summit in Tupper Lake, NY where they encouraged youth to use storytelling, group discussion, and skits to learn about the history of food injustice and the links between climate change and racism in the food system. At the University of Virginia Food System Symposium in Charlottesville, Amani was also part of a panel that discussed what it would mean to rebuild a food system based in the idea of “sovereignty,” a system where oppressed peoples instead took the lead in shaping the production, distribution, and preparation, of food rather than continue to be exploited and hurt by the food system, and at SUNY Plattsburgh, they spoke on ways we can collaborate and move towards a food system based on justice, dignity, and abundance for all members of our community. And yesterday Leah was at the Culinary Institute of America where passionate students dedicating their careers to nourishing their communities engaged in conversations about centering and honoring indigenous and traditional diets and how they are pushing their institution to prioritize this more.

Photo from Afro Seder 2014.

As Monica White said, “History does not repeat itself; people repeat history.” Let’s break that cycle. As Damaris and Ceci urged on social media, “We encourage folks to actively support trans, gender nonconforming and intersex folks in your communities. Move up and intervene in transphobic violence and violence against intersex folks. Support communities and organizations doing this work.” A few organizations doing this work include the TGI Justice Project in the Bay Area, Youth Breakout in New Orleans, the Audre Lorde Project in New York City, the Intersex Justice Project based in Chicago, Southerners On New Ground, and Ellas Para Trans Latinas. As Larisa and Lytisha shared in the aftermath of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, “Interracial solidarity is seen as a threat to white nationalism, and so this community was met with anti-Semitic violence in an attempt to squash it but still it persists. CelebrateMercy and MPower Change, two Muslim-American organizations, are raising money to support the survivors and victims’ families, so please donate and share their campaign.”  

Oppression underwrites our food system, and a tangible action we have taken for addressing food security and food sovereignty issues in our communities is taking reparations into our own hands through the creation of the Reparations Map for Black-Indigenous Farmers. We recognize that the food system was built on the stolen land and stolen labor of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and other people of color. We also know that we cannot wait for the government to acknowledge that stolen wealth and land must be returned. If you have resources you want to share contact a farmer directly to share them, or if you have a project you want to include on the map contact us!

Finally, at Soul Fire Farm we are committed to increasing the access people affected by food apartheid have to fresh, nutritious food as one way we combat oppression in the food system. Most of the meat accessible to low-income people and people of color is industrial meat – meat coming from animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where they are mistreated and injected with antibiotics and hormones. Industrial meat production also often happens in proximity to low-income black and brown communities, where air and water contamination results in health problems like respiratory illness, asthma, and lung inflammation. We renounce these practices and the ways they harm our communities and the land and instead raise chickens in a way that is more in alignment with what our ancestors practiced. Because of the sustainable practices we employ, such as raising chickens outside on spacious pasture, investing in fencing to protect them, and feeding them a locally-sourced non-GMO diet our meat costs more than meat produced inhumanly on factory farms from animals fed cheap, government-subsidized grains. We want to make our chicken accessible, so we are asking for donations so we can provide sustainable, pasture-raised chickens to the people in our Albany/Troy community.