If you encounter issues loading this site, please refresh the page by using Ctrl + F5 if on Windows or Cmd + Shift + R if on Mac.

Adult Opportunities

Black Earth Wisdom: Afro-Ecological Survival Strategies with Leah Penniman (online)

Hear the lessons of today’s most respected Black environmentalists.

Content Detail

“I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every day, every hour.” ~Dr. George Washington Carver, Tuskegee University, 1887

The Queen Mothers of Kroboland, Ghana, questioned their Black American students in disbelief, “Is it true that in the United States, a farmer will put the seed into the ground and not pour any libations, offer any prayers, sing, or dance, and expect that seed to grow?” Met with ashamed silence, they continued, “That is why you are all sick! Because you see the earth as a thing and not a being.”

Ecological humility is part of the cultural heritage of Black people. While more than 400 years of immersion in racial capitalism has attempted to squash that connection to the sacred earth, there are those who persist in believing that the land and waters are family members, and who act accordingly. In Black Earth Wisdom, Leah Penniman weaves together the lessons from today’s most respected Black environmentalists, those who have cultivated the skill of listening to the lessons that Earth has whispered to them. Together, we embark on a sensory journey through Black ecological thought.

In this time, we are acutely aware of the fractures in our system of runaway consumption and corporate insatiability. We feel the hot winds of wildfire, the disruptions of pandemic, and the choked breath of the victims of state violence. We know there is no going back to “normal.” The path forward demands that we take our rightful places as the younger siblings in creation, deferring to the oceans, forests, and mountains as our teachers.

Those whose skin is the color of soil are reviving their ancestral and ancient practice of listening to the Earth to know which way to go. As Dr. Carver explained, “How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. And what is the Infinite? It is that silent, small force . . .that still small voice.”

This program meets live online. This program is part of the Women and the Environment Series. Register for the other sessions.

Friday, March 10: Gidinawendimin: We Are All Connected with Dr. Wendy Makoons Geniusz

Friday, March 17: Conserving Biodiversity with Dr. Tanisha Williams, founder of #blackbotanistsweek

Friday, March 24: The Legacy of May Watts with Cindy Crosby and Rita Hassert

Friday, March 31: Soil Sisters: How Local Women Are Caring for the Land with Heather Lynch

Speaker: Leah Penniman

Age: 16 and older


Leah Penniman, co-executive director and farm director, Soul Fire Farm

Leah Penniman (all pronouns) is a Black Kreyol farmer, mother, soil nerd, author, and food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY. She co-founded Soul Fire Farm in 2010 with the mission to end racism in the food system and reclaim our ancestral connection to land. As co-executive director and farm  director, Penniman is part of a team that facilitates powerful food sovereignty programs, including farmer training for Black and Brown people, a subsidized farm food distribution program for communities living under food apartheid, and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system. Penniman has been farming since 1996, holds an MA in science education and a BA in environmental science and international development from Clark University, and is a member of clergy in West African Indigenous Orisa tradition. She  trained at Many Hands Organic Farm, Farm School MA, and internationally with farmers in Ghana, Haiti, and Mexico. She also served as a high school biology and environmental science teacher for 17 years. The work of Penniman  and Soul Fire Farm has been recognized by the Soros Racial Justice Fellowship, Fulbright Program, Pritzker Environmental Genius Award, Grist 50, and James Beard Leadership Award, among others. Her books, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land (2018) and Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists (2023) are love songs for the land and her people.

What to Know

This program meets live on Zoom. A recording will be available for two weeks after the program to registered participants.

In an effort to increase access, this lecture is available at three ticket prices, with a limited number of no-fee spots for those who could not otherwise participate. (To request a no-fee spot, please complete this form to enter the lottery.) To ensure that this pricing model sustainably supports all interested participants as well as our speaker, please select the ticket price you feel you can pay at this time.

Program Schedule

Thursday, April 6, 2023

7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Central



Your support is vital to the Arboretum, where the power of trees makes a positive impact on people’s lives.

Make a gift