Shared from the 7/12/2020 Albany Times Union eEdition


Soul Fire Farm to undergo an extensive site expansion

Petersburgh site adding lodge, classroom and water systems

Photos by Paul Buckowski / Times Union

Kweku Wooten, foreground, an apprentice at Soul Fire Farm, and Neshima Vitale-Penniman, whose parents own and run the farm, cut dill.


Jonah Vitale-Wolff, left, co-founder and co-director of Soul Fire Farm, and Soloman Rivers, an apprentice, work on a new classroom building at the farm in Petersburgh.


Soul fire farm, on a 70-acre patch of land off route 2 between Petersburgh and Grafton, was founded a decade ago by Leah Penniman and Jonah Vitale-Wolff. the Afro-indigenous farm focuses on training Black people and others who have been historically excluded from managerial roles in the nation’s farming industry. Paul Buckowski / times union


Soul Fire Farm, the Rensselaer County community farm focused on education, social justice and ending racism in the food system, said that it will undergo an extensive expansion, having outgrown the single-family farmhouse where it was founded a decade ago.

The farm is adding new facilities including a lodge and classroom, as well as commercial drinking and wastewater systems. Soul Fire, on a 70-acre patch of land off Route 2 between Petersburgh and Grafton, was founded a decade ago by Leah Penniman and Jonah Vitale-Wolff. The farm provides boxes of fresh produce to dozens of families across the Capital Region who live in food deserts, where healthy and inexpensive fruits and vegetables are hard to come by. Prior to the pandemic, Soul Fire also hosted a series of educational workshops that provided training to more than 1,000 farmers.

The Afro-Indigenous training farm’s mission is to end injustice in the food system, with focuses on training Black people and other groups that have been historically excluded from managerial roles in the American farming industry. The training sessions are part agriculture class, part anthropology lesson, with students learning about culturally relevant farming practices.

The farm’s small size worked in its early years, Penniman said, but the water and septic systems and home have borne the impact of excessive use throughout the years.

“We built our own home out here out of straw bales and cob that we made from the clay on the land,” Penniman said. “Things were pretty low-key. We started with 1,000 visitors a year, then it was 2,000, then 3,000. People are camping out and staying over, and everybody is sharing our family’s living room and kitchen and one bathroom. We always knew that it would be needed at some point to build a proper gathering space for folks to learn.”

A GoFundMe page set up by the farm to cover the cost of the renovation reached $54,000 Friday afternoon, more than halfway to the farm’s $100,000 goal.

“It’s so affirming because I have to say, farming is not an easy life,” Penniman said. “I think it’s when you see what it means to a community, that’s what keeps me going. Every time the community shows up for an event, or pitches in a few dollars, or writes up an email of thanks, that’s the fuel that keeps me going, especially when things are overwhelming — like during a pandemic.

The classrooms are expected to be complete by the end of this summer, while the entire renovation is expected to go through next year.

@ Michael.Williams

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