Radical Farmers Use Fresh Food to Fight Racial Injustice and the New Jim Crow

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Leah Penniman
Yes! Magazine
Jan 28, 2015

In August, five young men showed up at Soul Fire Farm, a sustainable farm near Albany, New York, where I work as educator and food justice coordinator. It was the first day of a new restorative justice program, in partnership with the county’s Department of Law. The teens had been convicted of theft, and, as an alternative to incarceration, chose this opportunity to earn money to pay back their victims while gaining farm skills. They looked wary and unprepared, with gleaming sneakers and averted eyes.

“I basically expected it to be like slavery, but it would be better than jail,” said a young man named Asan. “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,” he added.

As staff at Soul Fire, we were attempting to meet a challenge presented to us by Curtis Hayes Muhammad, the veteran civil rights activist: “Recognize that land and food have been used as a weapon to keep black people oppressed,” he said, while sitting at our dinner table months earlier. “Recognize also that land and food are essential to liberation for black people.”

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