Photo: Jamel Mosely
28th Heinz Awards - 2023
Leah Penniman, co-founder of Soul Fire Farm and author of “Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists” and “Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land,” receives the Heinz Award for the Economy for her commitment to sharing regenerative farming best practices and land stewardship with Black, Indigenous and people of color and to addressing racism and injustice in the food system.
Her 80-acre family farm has evolved into a nonprofit that works to reconnect people of color to the land, train the next generation of farmers and promote equity in food access. Soul Fire Farm also provides youth education programs, urban plantings, mobilization training and a community-supported agriculture program.
To increase the number of farms owned and operated by people of color, Mx. Penniman developed the Soul Fire Farming Immersion program, which teaches farming skills steeped in traditional, spiritual and sustainable methods along with courses on business management, marketing and carpentry.
Trainings include crop planning, soil fertility, seed selection and centuries-old, spiritual and sustainable farming practices first deployed by Blacks, Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples. These include polyculture, a practice adopted from Nigerian and Ghanaian farmers in which multiple types of crops are integrated in a single field; silvopasture, the intentional integration of trees, forage plants and livestock as an intensively managed system; and Afro-Indigenous agroforestry, the integration of trees to develop a microclimate that protects crops against extremes. Participants who complete the immersion program receive ongoing support and access to resources, land, funding and mentorship.
An outspoken advocate for replacing exploitive farming systems with regenerative systems that sustain the land long term, Mx. Penniman is also engaged in calling for expansion of farm-to-community nutrition incentive programs that give low-income individuals and families living under food apartheid more buying power for and access to fruits and vegetables.