This fall the staff of Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming along with Ithaca community members took a day trip to Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, NY, a “family farm committed to dismantling the oppressive structures that misguide our food system”. Soul Fire is farmed by a mixed race family who grow vegetables and small fruits on 1.5 acres and also have a one acre mixed orchard and 3 acres of pasture for egg and meat chickens. A sliding-scale farm share CSA feeds 70-100 families in the nearby cities of Troy and Albany, and educational programs run during much of the year on topics ranging from food justice training for youth to sustainable development support for grassroots activists.
Soul Fire Farm’s focus is on ending racism in the food system, and their programs are run by and for people of color, low-income people, women, religious minorities, and those targeted by the criminal punishment system. Their commitment to centering those most historically marginalized in the food system is evident in programs like the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion, a regenerative farming training for people of color.
Groundswell staff had heard many wonderful things about Soul Fire Farm over the years, and we were excited to finally see it in action. When we arrived on Saturday morning Soul Fire’s “Community Workday” was already in full swing. Around 40 people were busy at work around the farm, some helping to terrace a hillside for a new orchard, some cleaning the abundant garlic harvest, some chopping and stacking wood, and some kneading cabbage and filling mason jars with delicious kraut. After being warmly greeted by Leah and Jonah, the head farmers, we jumped in and spent the morning talking, laughing and learning with the other attendees who had come from around the region.
One thing that stood out to me from our morning working together was how openly our multiracial group of participants talked about race, racism and the food system. As we filled the kraut jars, talk flowed from was learned at a recent Undoing Racism training for white farmers to issues of gentrification in downtown Troy to the marginalization many folks of color experience when trying to broach the subject of race in the workplace. There was a refreshing sense of shared understanding of how these topics are all intimately connected, and how issues of land, food, and health are so often also issues of racial and economic injustice. It was clear that Soul Fire provides a unique space where clarity and honesty about systemic oppression is the norm, and the health, healing and well-being of people of color is centered.
Before lunch, we stood in a circle and each person named something they were grateful for, which was then echoed back by the entire group. Community, health, bodies, liberation, sunshine, garlic, connection, hard work and more were lifted up before we gathered on the grass for a delicious potluck lunch. Afterward Leah led a circle to share more about Soul Fire’s food justice mission, sharing pictures of the farm through the years and opening up the space for questions. We talked about the difficulties inherent in trying to have a profitable farm business and providing accessible food for communities, flawed agricultural policy, ways to support the leadership of people of color in the food system, and more. Leah was clear that she does not have all the answers, but that these questions, conversations and resulting actions are what lead to transformation.
It was very inspiring for all of us to be at Soul Fire Farm and to witness the spirit of positivity, justice and love that Leah, Jonah and all of the farm apprentices and residents bring to their work. They are creating a space where farmers of color can speak to the injustice they experience in the food system, get support, and build the skills to address it. We returned to Ithaca feeling nourished by the beautiful vegetables they grow and the sense of community and warmth they are cultivating.