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Black Land Matters

By Brian Barth ~ Modern Farmer

Leah Penniman is an American anomaly: black, female, and a farmer. In 2016, Penniman hit the streets of Albany, New York, to protest the police brutality that killed Donald “Dontay” Ivy, 39, an unarmed local man. But her primary focus involves fighting what she considers a far more common, yet more subtly brutal, form of oppression. “Corporations, and white folks, in particular, control the food system,” explains the 37-year-old. “If the means of production are in the hands of people outside our community, we are dependent on those who might not have our best interests in mind.”

An alarming series of stats bears out her logic: Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other potentially fatal diet-related illnesses afflict African Americans at nearly twice the rate they do Caucasians. Black people are four times less likely than white ones to live within a mile or two of a supermarket, while predominantly black neighborhoods boast 13 times as many fast-food billboards. The polite euphemism for this specific facet of institutionalized racism is “food desert.” Penniman prefers the term “food apartheid.” “I’ve experienced first-hand how difficult it is to live in a place where you have to hustle for vegetables,” says the mother of two.

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