GRAFTON, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Leah Penniman, the co-founder of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, is a recipient of the 28th Heinz Awards for the Economy. As part of the award, Penniman will get an unrestricted cash award of $250,000.
Soul Fire Farm focuses on teaching regenerative farming best practices and land stewardship to Black, Indigenous and People of Color, as well as addressing racism and injustice in the food system. The 80-acre non-profit farm works to promote equity in food access and equipping People of Color with the training and skills needed to become leaders in farming and the food justice movement.
The farm has youth education programs, urban plantings, mobilization training and a community-supported agriculture program. In 2022, more than 38,000 people participated in the trainings.
Penniman created the Soul Fire Farming Immersion program, which teaches farming skills along with courses on business management, marketing and carpentry. Trainings include crop planning, soil fertility, seed selection and centuries-old farming practices first deployed by Black people, Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples.
“We have a very ambitious mission, which is justice in the food system,” said Penniman. “We want to train and equip and support the next generation of Black and Brown farmers. Stewarding our own land, growing our own food, educating our own youth, participating in our own health care and justice systems, this is the source of real power and dignity.”
Penniman is an advocate for replacing exploitive farming systems with regenerative systems, as well as calling for the expansion of farm-to-community nutrition incentive programs to give low-income individuals and families access to fruits and vegetables. They are also the 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.”
“Leah is honored for changing the face of farming and the future of agriculture in this country, while also calling into stark view the inequities in our food systems that have excluded Black, Indigenous and People of Color from owning farmland and growing their own food for far too long,” said Teresa Heinz, Chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. “Leah’s tireless work is reviving practices rich in wisdom, breaking barriers to farm ownership and bringing a whole new generation back to the land.”
The Heinz Awards were created by Teresa Heinz in 1993 to honor the memory of her late husband U.S. Senator John Heinz. The awards recognize excellence and achievement in arts, the economy and the environment. Since the program launched, 171 recipients have received more that $31 million in awards.