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Book Recommendations: Black Farming & Food

The month of February is recognized as Black History Month in the United States. It was first celebrated by a group of Black educators and students, who proposed the idea the previous year, at Kent State University in 1970. Black History Month became nationally recognized in 1976 under the Ford Administration.

February is a good time to intentionally learn about and celebrate Black figures and accomplishments in America. But, we believe it is also important to continue growing our knowledge and support of the Black community ALL year, not just during one month.

As this year's Black History Month wraps up, we want to leave you with some book recommendations and encourage you to do some extra homework around Black farming, Black food, and food apartheid.

Below is a list of 10 books on Black farming, agriculture, food access, folk-medicine, and more. We hope you'll pick up a book or two and keep on learning about Black history and celebrating Black futures and Black joy all year long!

Farming While Black

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land

By Leah Penniman

Order the book: Publisher | Amazon

From the publisher:

Farming While Black is the first comprehensive "how to" guide for aspiring African-heritage growers to reclaim their dignity as agriculturists and for all farmers to understand the distinct, technical contributions of African-heritage people to sustainable agriculture.

Throughout the chapters Penniman uplifts the wisdom of the African diasporic farmers and activists whose work informs the techniques described--from whole farm planning, soil fertility, seed selection, and agroecology, to using whole foods in culturally appropriate recipes, sharing stories of ancestors, and tools for healing from the trauma associated with slavery and economic exploitation on the land. Woven throughout the book is the story of Soul Fire Farm, a national leader in the food justice movement.

Bonus: Check out Lia Penniman's keynote speech at the Moses Organic Conference here as she walks you through a brief history of African agriculture.

Freedom Farmers

Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement

Dr. Monica White

Order the book: Publisher | Amazon

From the publisher:

Freedom Farmers expands the historical narrative of the black freedom struggle to embrace the work, roles, and contributions of southern Black farmers and the organizations they formed. Whereas existing scholarship generally views agriculture as a site of oppression and exploitation of black people, this book reveals agriculture as a site of resistance and provides a historical foundation that adds meaning and context to current conversations around the resurgence of food justice/sovereignty movements in urban spaces like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, and New Orleans.

Black Food Geographies

Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access

Ashante M. Reese

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From the publisher:

In this book, Ashanté M. Reese makes clear the structural forces that determine food access in urban areas, highlighting Black residents’ navigation of and resistance to unequal food distribution systems. Linking these local food issues to the national problem of systemic racism, Reese examines the history of the majority-Black Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, Reese not only documents racism and residential segregation in the nation’s capital but also tracks the ways transnational food corporations have shaped food availability. By connecting community members’ stories to the larger issues of racism and gentrification, Reese shows there are hundreds of Deanwoods across the country.

The Cooking Gene

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South

Michael W. Twitty

Order the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon

From Barnes & Noble:

Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who "owns" it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.

As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.

Bonus: check out Michael Twitty's talk on Culinary Injustice

Growing Out Loud

Growing Out Loud: Journey of a Black Revolutionary

Rashid Nuri

Order the book: From the Author | Amazon

From the author:

Growing Out Loud: Journey of a Food Revolutionary is an uncompromising, unapologetic polemic. It is also a tutorial woven around the memoir of K. Rashid Nuri’s career in agriculture. This book describes the life and times of one food revolutionary, whose food odyssey began during the turbulent 1960s and continued through the innovation-driven new millennium. As an elder revolutionary, I am offering my journey in the context of a set of principles and practices that marked my growth, and the growth of the food revolution.

Working the Roots

Working the Roots: Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing

Michele Elizabeth Lee

Order the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon

From the Barnes & Noble:

Working the Roots: Over 400 Years Of Traditional African American Healing is the result of first-hand interviews, conversations, and apprenticeships conducted and experienced by author Michele E. Lee over several years of living and studying in the rural South and in the West Coast regions of the United States. She combines a novelist’s keen ear for storytelling and dialogue and a healer’s understanding of folk medicine arts into a book that makes for both pleasant, interesting reading, and serves as a permanent household healing guide.

Divided between sections on interviews of healers and their stories and a comprehensive collection of traditional African American medicines, remedies, and the many common ailments they were called upon to cure, Working The Roots is a valuable addition to African American history and American and African folk healing practices.

Mojo Workin'

Mojo Workin': The Old African American Hoodoo System

Katrina Hazzard-Donald

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From the publisher:

Katrina Hazzard-Donald explores African Americans' experience and practice of the herbal, healing folk belief tradition known as Hoodoo. She examines Hoodoo culture and history by tracing its emergence from African traditions to religious practices in the Americas. Working against conventional scholarship, Hazzard-Donald argues that Hoodoo emerged first in three distinct regions she calls "regional Hoodoo clusters" and that after the turn of the nineteenth century, Hoodoo took on a national rather than regional profile. The spread came about through the mechanism of the "African Religion Complex," eight distinct cultural characteristics familiar to all the African ethnic groups in the United States.

Black Food Matters

Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice

Hanna Garth

Order the book: Publisher | Amazon

From the publisher:

Black Food Matters analyzes how Blackness is contested through food, differing ideas of what makes our sustenance “healthy,” and Black individuals’ own beliefs about what their cuisine should be. This comprehensive look at Black food culture and the various forms of violence that threaten the future of this cuisine centers Blackness in a field that has too often framed Black issues through a white-centric lens, offering new ways to think about access, privilege, equity, and justice.

Black Rice

Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas

Judith A. Carney

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From the publisher:

Black Rice tells the story of the true provenance of rice in the Americas. It establishes, through agricultural and historical evidence, the vital significance of rice in West African society for a millennium before Europeans arrived and the slave trade began. The standard belief that Europeans introduced rice to West Africa and then brought the knowledge of its cultivation to the Americas is a fundamental fallacy, one which succeeds in effacing the origins of the crop and the role of Africans and African-American slaves in transferring the seed, the cultivation skills, and the cultural practices necessary for establishing it in the New World.

The Shadow of Slavery

The Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World

Judith A. Carney

Order the book: Publisher | Amazon

From the publisher:

The Shadow of Slavery provides a startling new assessment of the Atlantic slave trade and upends conventional wisdom by shifting attention from the crops slaves were forced to produce to the foods they planted for their own nourishment. Many familiar foods—millet, sorghum, coffee, okra, watermelon, and the “Asian” long bean, for example—are native to Africa, while commercial products such as Coca Cola, Worcestershire Sauce, and Palmolive Soap rely on African plants that were brought to the Americas on slave ships as provisions, medicines, cordage, and bedding. In this exciting, original, and groundbreaking book, Judith A. Carney and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff draw on archaeological records, oral histories, and the accounts of slave ship captains to show how slaves' food plots—“botanical gardens of the dispossessed”—became the incubators of African survival in the Americas and Africanized the foodways of plantation societies.

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