Free the People, Free the Land

From left to right: Jodie Evans, Leah Penniman, Ed Whitfield, and Matt Stinchcomb. Photo courtesy of Devin Shea.

On Saturday, October 27th, Leah Penniman and Ed Whitfield delivered the 38th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of W. E. B. Du Bois.

Ed Whitfield, co-founder and co-managing director of the Fund for Democratic Communities, has written and spoken extensively on non-extractive finance, reparations, and building investment structures that support community self-determination.

Eliza Spellman, Agrarian Trust staff member, reflects on her experience at the Schumacher Lectures in “Building an Agrarian Commons: Learning from Farmers & Community Organizers“:

“For decades, Whitfield has shown an unflagging commitment to true and lasting economic justice for all. What does this kind of justice look like? Whitfield has no problem with questioning everything, even old parables that we often repeat without thinking, in order to uncover deeper truth and more meaning.”

Ed Whitfield. Photo courtesy of Devin Shea.

“He asserts that we must organize to create new models and shift our paradigms to ensure that every person has a chance to be fully human, which includes a chance to benefit from the product of their labor and be productive, expressing their dignity through their work. Our collective work must be an engine for social equality and justice, where the wealth that is created elevates the quality of life for our communities.”

Leah Penniman is an educator, farmer/peyizan, author, and food justice activist from Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY.

She opened her talk, “I’m really excited to bring to you a story about race and the food system and about how we can decolonize and re-indigenize our relationship to land and to sustenance.”

“If we fail to know our history, then we’re a rootless tree and a rootless tree cannot survive. So we’re going back in our history in order to talk about what we’re doing to further Black agrarianism, to further new economies for Black and Brown people. We really need to understand that the food system isn’t broken. It’s designed and working exactly as it was intended. It was built on stolen land and it was built with stolen labor and that continues today in an unbroken chain that started in 1455.”

Leah Penniman and her son Emet. Photo courtesy of Devin Shea

“What’s incredible about the Black farming movement is even as people were being dispossessed from their land, both by governmental discrimination and also by outright racist violence—lynchings, burnings, and dispossession—even as we were told that somehow it was a choice that we gave up our land, we knew it was not true… We left part of our souls behind in those red clays of Georgia, we left our ancestors behind, and we’re trying to reclaim that inherit connection, that right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system. Part of that reclaiming is reclaiming our story.”

The videos of Leah and Ed’s talks, as well as the audience question period, are now online at the Schumacher Center’s YouTube channel. The transcriptions of the talks are in the process of being edited and will be posted online in the coming months to read for free, or to purchase in hard copy or in eBook form. Stay tuned!

The edited texts of previous Schumacher Lectures can be read online or ordered in pamphlet form, and the audio of these talks can be heard at The Schumacher Lectures Podcast.