Leah Penniman Keynote Address from 2023 Winter Conference
CT NOFA is happy to present our 2023 Winter Conference Keynote Address by Leah Penniman, recorded on March 11, 2023.
Leah Penniman is a Black Kreyol farmer, author, mother, and food justice activist who has been tending the soil and organizing for an anti-racist food system for 25 years. She currently serves as founding co-ED and Farm Director of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York, a Black & Brown led project that works toward food and land justice. Her books are Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land (2018) and Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists (2023). Find out more about Leah’s work at www.soulfirefarm.org and follow her @soulfirefarm on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
“I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour.” ~Dr. George Washington Carver, Tuskegee University, 1887
The Queen Mothers of Kroboland, Ghana admonished their Black American students in disbelief, “Is it true that in the United States, a farmer will put the seed into the ground and not pour any libations, offer any prayers, sing, or dance, and expect that seed to grow?” Met with ashamed silence, they continued, “That is why you are all sick! Because you see the earth as a thing and not a being.”
Ecological humility is part of the cultural heritage of Black people. While our 400+ years immersion in racial capitalism has attempted to squash that connection to the sacred earth, there are those who persist in believing that the land and waters are family members, and who act accordingly. In Black Earth Wisdom, Leah Penniman weaves together the lessons from today’s most respected Black environmentalists, those who have cultivated the skill of listening to the lessons that Earth has whispered to them. Together, we embark on a sensory journey through Black ecological thought.
In this time, we are acutely aware of the fractures in our system of runaway consumption and corporate insatiability. We feel the hot winds of wildfire, the disruptions of pandemic, and the choked breath of the victims of state violence. We know there is no going back to “normal.” The path forward demands that we take our rightful places as the younger siblings in creation, deferring to the oceans, forests, and mountains as our teachers.
Those whose skin is the color of soil are reviving their ancestral and ancient practice of listening to the Earth to know which way to go. As Dr. Carver explained, “How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. And what is the Infinite? It is that silent, small force… that still small voice.”
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