From the Bookshelf: Farming While Black, Leah Penniman

Let’s start with a quiz to establish essential knowledge and philosophy for reading Mrs. Penniman’s “Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land”

“Food Apartheid” is:

a) a system of organizing one’s garden, pantry, and menu plans

b) a system of constructive engagement, advocated by President Reagan in the 1980s to transform the agricultural system in South Africa

c) the method of manumission that Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson advocated for freeing their slaves, in their wills

d) a system of food production and marketing, in which certain populations live in food opulence and others cannot meet their basic survival needs

If you answered, a), you probably want to pick out a different book with pictures of beautify vegetables and smiling (white) women in the kitchen.

If you answered b), you probably want to want to tune into Homestead Rescue and watch a bunch of stereo-typical white people helping out poor back-to-the-land minded folks, since they obviously they can’t manage without white people rescuing them.

If you answered c), you probably really want to change society, but are benefitting from the system as is, so you can leave a legacy endowment which will make those changes after you are dead.

If you answered d), you should contact your favorite, local, black-owned book seller and start reading “Farming While Black”.

In “Farming While Black”, Ms. Penniman chronicles her journey of developing her philosophy of food production, then building Soul Fire Farm near Albany, NY with her husband and the local community. The books is part history, part spiritual inspiration, part technical manual, part social commentary and criticism of our industrial food system, and all comprehensive argument for changing how we grow, preserve, distribute, prepare, and eat food. This is a book which nurtures us on many levels.

Ms. Penniman has organized the topics of how people of color view farming, can educate their communities, and provide food as a way of caring for each other into easily read and referenced chapters. But, how you read this book may depend on your ethnicity and culture. To be honest, if you are not someone of color, start with the last chapter, “White People Uprooting Racism”. This will give you (myself included) a context and perspective for how to read this book and what to do.

First, people of color and empathetic people of European descent must recognize that relying on the dominant culture to solve the problem of food apartheid merely perpetuates dependence and implying inferiority of people of color. They must solve their own problems. And, by Ms. Penniman’s view, the first step is realizing that their ancestors brought the solutions across the Atlantic and implemented them during their period of enslavement, to only have the masters (with their educational, government, and religious systems) then claim that they discovered and developed these practices.

Mama Karen explained, “Anytime Black and Brown people do something to be self-reliant, the system does something to buck it, dismiss it, or co-opt it. ‘Look at those monkeys, look at what they live in, they live in filth’, said the white police officers. I heard it with my own ears.”

– Karen Washington

Quick Quiz:

What is the most common crime for which black youth are arrested, thereby first introduced to the criminal justice system, jail, parole, etc.?

a) loitering

b) distributing cocaine

c) armed robbery

d) domestic violence

If you picked a), continue reading, particularly chapter 13, “Youth on Land”.

If you picked b) you better check out your average white fraternity or office party, as this is where most cocaine is consumed.

If you picked c) ask the CDD or FBI for statistics on black gun ownership, criminal use of guns, or mortality rates by gun deaths… oops, Congress forbade keeping federal agencies from keeping any statistics about guns, thanks to the NRA (while you at it, ask how many NRA members are people of color).

If you answered d), ask who used the guy in Kenosha, WI.

Okay, I’ll stop ranting. But, obviously, even as an outsider, I found “Farming While Black” to be an engaging book on many levels. Yes, I like history especially from a variety of perspective. Check. Yes, I like the concept of community and that neighbors caring for each other provide more security than… Congress. Check. Yes, I like confirmation that many of the gardening practices which we have adopted grow great food and also great soil. Check. Yes, I like finding books which I can endorse, and even purchase a few more copies to send on to like-minded folks in all shades of white, grey, and brown.

“Farming While Black” has exceeded my expectation.

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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5 Responses to From the Bookshelf: Farming While Black, Leah Penniman

  1. Sure sounds like a book to add to the TBR list. Would I sound like too much of a radical to add that good, nutritious food is a human right? I sure hope not.

  2. Chet says:

    Wow. I’ll be sure to pick up a copy– sounds not only fascinating, but enlightening. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. tnkburdett says:

    trying to find it on audio Paulette

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