Our Team

Leah Penniman got her farming start as a teen with the Food Project in Boston, MA. She then worked with the Farm School caring for goats and teaching city kids where carrots come from. Leah also worked for and co-managed Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, MA for several years, co-founded Youth Grow in Worcester, MA, and worked with farmers in Ghana, West Africa and Komye, Haiti. Her areas of leadership at Soul Fire include farmer training, youth educational programming, international solidarity with Haitian farmers, food justice organizing, and anything that involves heavy lifting, sweat, and soil.

Jonah Vitale-Wolff apprenticed at Live Power Farm in CA after working on farms throughout New Zealand, Spain, and Central America through the WWOOF program, and was hooked.  He returned to his northeast roots to build skills as a farmer in this particular climate by working over many seasons at Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, MA. Jonah also coordinated the city-wide community gardens program in Worcester, MA with the Regional Environmental Council, and later collaborated with Leah to start  Youth GROW, making urban agriculture central to his understanding of the food system.

Soul Fire Farm is a project of Jonah and Leah’s hearts – of family and relationships, and the profound ways in which the sacred connection to land creates a powerful vessel for social change and personal transformation, growth and healing. Jonah finds the open sky and bird song foundational for a good life, but not unless he can share it with friends and community. Jonah is also an accomplished timber framer, natural builder and educator with his former company Hudson Valley Natural Building.

 

20160921_163439Neshima and Emet Vitale-Penniman got an early start with growing, assisting parents and friends with tending chickens, planting seeds, and cleaning garlic. The children excel at CSA packing with exceptional attention to detail, positive attitudes, and usually – singing. Neshima also brings her passion as a harpist to the farm, as well as her spirited ways of moving her body through gymnastics, aerial silks, and just playing around.  Emet is a student of traditional West African drumming, and regularly graces the sound waves of the farm with his poetry, singing, rhymes, and has been known to spontaneously break dance at the slightest sound of a beat.

 

photo-on-11-13-16-at-7-00-pm-2Keidra Gordon joins our 2017 season after completing a farming apprenticeship at Amber Waves Farm located on the east end of Long Island. She is originally from Marietta, Georgia, and moved to New York after studying environmental engineering at the University of Georgia. Before pursuing farming, Keidra worked as an operations manager in the restaurant and fashion industries. In addition to increasing her knowledge of agroforestry and soil replenishment through plant biodiversity, she has a passion for holistic skin care and Ayurvedic medicine. She is honored to join Soul Fire Farm team and is excited for the opportunity to engage in the community while aiding Soul Fire in their 2017 farming season.

Often found digging up city clay as a child in Pittsburgh, Larisa Jacobson first worked on a vegetable and goat farm 20 years ago. After several years working on immigrant and low-income housing issues in Brooklyn, intersectional health disparities in Oakland, and youth support networks, Larisa’s love of learning from the land led her deeper into the vital role of growing and cooking food as acts of cultural survival and celebration of identity, family, and home. She studied the sacred importance of water and land stewardship at Instituto Tonantzin Tlalli in Mexico, worked and taught at the University of California Davis Student Experimental Farm, and witnessed the magic of youth-led food sovereignty organizing as a grower/crew leader at The Food Project. Most recently, she managed a community food access farm outside Boston, where she was committed to confronting racism and xenophobia in the food system and facilitating land access for youth and elders to grow food in public housing communities. She holds reverence for the healing power of art, music, and food and for lifting up the stories and agency of those at the margins and the in-between spaces.
img_4952Amani
Olugbala
is a storyteller who weaves music, film, speech and poem into art that highlights social injustice, honors the ancestors and demands for change. This, in an effort to uplift the spirits of the marginalized and promote love and service as necessary acts of rebellion against isolation and disconnection. An artist, farmer, educator and community organizer Amani uses artistic expression, urban agriculture and social awareness to impact change and foster a sense of empathy and inter-being in local urban communities. Amani is a guest facilitator for Black and Latino Farmers Immersion and our fall workshop series.

Gabriela Álvarez approaches her role of chef as a culinary artist and healer. Her work sits at the intersection of cooking, wellness, social justice, and alchemy. Gabriela began her culinary career in 2012 and has since cooked predominantly with community-based organizations and grassroots movements. She offers nourishment as a tool for resiliency and connection. In 2013 Gabriela began facilitating cooking workshops as a Just Food Community Chef and continues to teach youth classes at El Puente. In 2015 she founded Liberation Cuisine, a catering company dedicated to preparing meals collectively with sustainable ingredients and practices. Her menus are constantly evolving hand-in-hand with her studies of astrology, numerology, tarot, food energetics, and traditional food preparations. Her relationship to land and food are deeply connected to her homeland of Puerto Rico, where she visits frequently. She has been the Kitchen Manager for the Black and Latinx Farmer Immersion Program since 2015.

 

Board Members

Leah Penniman Soul Fire Farm
Jonah Vitale-Wolff Soul Fire Farm
Adaku Utah Beatbox Botanics, Dance, Health Ed
Jalal Sabur Freedom Food Alliance, Prison Bus Project
Adele Smith-Penniman UU Minister, Artist
Dan Lyles PhD Candidate RPI
Elena Rosenbaum Physician, Community Care
Gabrilla Ballard Songwriter, Artist, Healer
Kavitha Rao Common Fire
Owen Taylor Farmer, Educator, Musician
Tagan Engel Community Food Systems Coord. City Seed
Abby Lublin Community Organizer, Troy
Kristin Reynolds Food System Professor, New School
Naima Penniman Performing Artist
Taina Asili Performing Artist

 

 

 

Lissa Vanderbeck had her hands in the soil from a young age, helping out at the Pougkeepsie Farm Project as a child.  She first began putting food and activism together in college while studying food systems and working on farms during the summer. She began to recognize the oppression that takes place in the food system and the connection between justice in the food system and other movements for justice. She just moved back from Oakland, California where she worked at a food and economic justice organization called People’s Grocery. She is thrilled to be back home in the Hudson Valley and involved in stewardship of the land, coming together in community around healthy food, making connections with so many other realms of community work, and the soul that flows through it all. She loves to dance, be outside, laugh, and plays well in the dirt and with others!

ENDING RACISM AND INJUSTICE IN THE FOOD SYSTEM

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