A hundred years ago around 14 percent of farms in the United States were owned by black Americans. Today only 1 percent are. And although more than 80 percent of farm labor in the U.S. is currently performed by Latinx workers, they own just 3 percent of farms.
Leah Penniman is trying to change that. In 2011 the author, educator, and activist cofounded Soul Fire Farm with her husband, Jonah Vitale-Wolff. Located in Grafton, New York, the working farm also serves as a training ground for aspiring farmers of color who come there to learn about sustainable agriculture and reclaim a connection to the land severed by centuries of trauma and oppression. Many black people, Penniman says, disdain farming because they associate it with picking cotton on plantations. She helps them see how growing their own food fosters independence in the face of systemic racism. More than 80 percent of Soul Fire’s graduates go on to work as farmers and food activists.