Leah Penniman, local farmer-activist visits campus

Farmer-activist Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm visited campus on November 4th for a full day of activities, including a workshop, dinner, and public lecture as part of the end of “Food Justice Week and Beyond.” Penniman is the co-founder of Soul Fire Farm, a Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)-centered farm in Grafton, NY, just twenty minutes from campus. 

Penniman began the day with the workshop “Strategies for Building a Just Food System.” In the workshop, a small group of students, staff, and faculty split into groups and created presentations based on key events in food and environmental justice history. Guided by Penniman’s write-ups, participants enacted stories such as George Washington Carver’s regeneration of organic matter in soils through composting and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe’s fight for legal recognition of the rights of wild rice, through formal presentation, play enactment, or interpretive dance. 

This activity was followed by a discussion led by Penniman about how we could better incorporate food justice into life at Williams – ideas included focusing on culturally relevant foods, changing the pace of dining, and efforts to get students to learn more about where their food comes from.

Penniman’s day at Williams ended with a public lecture in Weston Hall titled “Farming While Black: African Diasporic Wisdom for Farming and Food Justice.” The lecture covered the history of agriculture in the U.S., with one of Penniman’s main points being the U.S. food system is based on the theft of indigenous lands and the exploitation of free labor. Penniman stressed the importance to create a food system that honored and respected the earth, covered several important figures in the history of food justice, and discussed her work at Soul Fire Farm. 

The farm provides produce and eggs to Albany and Troy through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, a collaborative relationship between the farmers and the consumers in which the “customer buys a share of the harvest up front and receives a weekly delivery of fresh produce throughout the growing season.” By providing this on a sliding scale and focusing on the immigrant and refugee community, Soul Fire Farm fulfills their mission of providing affordable, healthy food!  They also host Community Farm Days, trainings, immersions, and workshop programming for BIPOC up-and-coming farmers.

As the culmination and conclusion to “Food Justice Week and Beyond,” Penniman’s visit to campus was meant to encourage and foster discussion about how Williams can improve its commitment to sustainable food and incorporate ideas of food and environmental justice.