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Soul Fire

Updated: May 15, 2021

Any discussion of permaculture must begin with a survey of the landscape, natural and cultural. In visiting Boggs Tract Community Farm here in Stockton, I was reminded of many urban and rural farms across the country. The beauty is the farms are like ecosystems, absorbing the local nutrients and returning a gift to the local farmers, whose various traditions nurture (or not) the land.

Here's a beautifully written article, "An Afro-Indigenous Approach to Agriculture and Food Security," published March 26, 2021, on Civil Eats. It captivates me with its eloquent style and presentation but even more with its profound implications for community farming now and in the long term.

Author Leah Penniman of Grafton, New York, co-director of Soul Fire Farm, writes: "My ancestral grandmothers in West Africa braided seeds of okra, molokhia, and levant cotton into their hair before being forced to board Transatlantic slave ships. They hid sesame, black-eyed peas, rice, and melon seeds in their locks. They stashed away amara kale, gourds, sorrel, basil, tamarind, and cola in their tresses. The seed was their most precious legacy, and they believed against odds in a future of tilling and reaping the earth; they believed that we—their descendants—would exist and that we would receive and honor the gift of the seed."

These words resonate with young permaculturists today. I've met such people in upstate New York and Oakland, California. I'm starting to meet them here in Stockton, in the agricultural heartland of the nation.

What folks in all these places are saying and doing is not unlike what Penniman is doing at Soul Fire: "In 2010, Soul Fire Farm was born with a mission to reclaim our ancestral belonging to land and to end racism and exploitation in the food system. What began as a small family farm is now a community organization committed to this systemic and ancestral change. And we pray that the words from our mouths, the meditations in our hearts, and the work of our hands are all acceptable to our grandmothers who passed us these seeds."

The article is a good guide to thinking about community farming anywhere, including here in Stockton, California.

Mark Mardon


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