Social justice + local food in New York

Can one farm change an entire community?

from Soul Fire Farm’s facebook page

Soul Fire Farm represents a synthesis of multiple social justice goals. The farm produces fresh, healthful food, serves as an educational center, and provides an opportunity for young people convicted of crimes to avoid getting stuck in the revolving door of the justice system– all while honoring the role that black farmers have played in the civil rights movement.

Fresh food. The farm offers a Community Supported Agriculture program that delivers produce to members’ doorsteps. Health disparities are rampant in America today. According to the National Institutes of Health, nutrition and diet-related diseases (such as heart disease and diabetes) disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities as well as households with lower incomes. Food deserts means that households in far too many urban and rural areas lack access to healthful, affordable food. One CSA member said, “The weekly deliveries of vegetables from your farm were an absolute delight in our lives this year.”

Education. The 72-acre farm welcomes young visitors to join as apprenticeships, take tours, and workshops that cover food justice and environmental issues. The farm also hosts activist retreats for individuals of all ages.

Combating recidivism. The farm, located near Albany, New York, is partnering with the county’s Department of Law to help young people convicted of crimes to learn skills and repay victims rather than being imprisoned. Black and Latino minors are more likely to be arrested and are more harshly sentenced than white minors who committed comparable crimes, and once someone enters the criminal justice system, it can be incredibly difficult to extricate himself from it. As one participant put it:

I basically expected it to be like slavery, but it would be better than jail. It was different though. We got paid and we got to bring food home. The farmers there are black like us, which I did not expect. I could see myself having my own farm one day.

Civil rights activist Curtis Hayes Muhammad urged Americans to “[r]ecognize that land and food have been used as a weapon to keep black people oppressed. Recognize also that land and food are essential to liberation for black people.”

As Leah Penniman noted, “Muhammad explained the central role that black farmers had played during the civil rights movement, coordinating campaigns for desegregation and voting rights as well as providing food, housing, and safe haven for other organizers.”

In 2015, Soul Fire Farm is limiting some of its activities as they’re honoring the Hebrew concept of Shmita. “Our Hebrew ancestors taught us that every 7 years the land must be allowed to rest and replenish,” the farm’s site explains. “Shmita is also a year of radical wealth redistribution, community building, and gift economics.” Learn more.

Check out a slideshow below!

About Holly

Holly Jensen is a writer and poet who has worked with nonprofits and businesses for over a decade. She also serves as editor of The Ghazal Page, an international literary journal.
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