Located in upstate New York, Soul Fire Farm is an Afro-Indigenous community training the next generation of activist-farmers. The farm-centered community seeks to "uproot racism and seed sovereignty in the food system." They work to bring diverse communities together on sacred land to share traditional stewardship skills.
To learn more, we talked with Brooke Bridges, Soul Fire Farm's kitchen magician, farmer, and food justice assistant manager.
Brooke Bridges. Photo credit: Soul Fire Farm
Q. Brooke, what are your roots and why did you decide to join the Soul Fire Farm community?
I'm from Los Angeles, California, but I've been living in the Northeast since 2017. Prior to moving to the Northeast, I didn't really know anything about farming or food sovereignty, which is what Soul Fire Farm is centered around. We talk a lot about people who struggle under food apartheid — communities of color in particular who don't have access to enough food. Prior to moving out here, I had no idea that was even a thing. I grew up relatively privileged — upper middle class — and never had to worry about food.
After I moved to the East Coast, I met Leah Penniman, our co-founder and farm director. I heard her speak about Soul Fire Farm and the inherent racism in the food system. And I was embarrassed. I asked myself, "As a young Black woman in America, how do I not know about this?"
I needed to get involved somehow. Soul Fire hired me on as a chef — assistant kitchen magician. I started cooking for the immersion programs that we have every year to train new farmers.
Q. What does a day in the Soul Fire Farm community look like for you?
I'm one of the few people on staff who actually lives and works here. For me, the day-to-day life looks like a variety of things — it really depends on the season. In the wintertime (we live in upstate New York, so we get pretty brutal winters), it could literally just be me on my computer doing administrative tasks like processing donor checks and thanking donors for contributing to our cause. It could be me creating social media posts for Instagram and Facebook. Or, more recently, I've been organizing our seeds. I'm also just finalizing the list of everyone who's going to be in our CSA this year and prepping for our first week of greenhouse seeding, which starts soon. I can't believe it's already happening!
We also have farm team meetings. Leah, Rhea and I are on the farm team, and we've all have been meeting together recently to talk about the crop map, plan what seeds we need, and order our supplies.
In the summertime, people come to the farm for the programs. I do a variety of different things, from serving as the hospitality person to helping cook to running and facilitating the farming block.
Q. How does your personal mission align with the Soul Fire Farm community?
I didn't know anything about farming prior to leaving LA, but then I lived on a farm in northern California for about three months, and I knew there was something about the land and growing your own food — it was calling me. I just didn't know where that voice was coming from. I was introduced to Lemon Balm for the first time by growing it from the actual ground and realized, "Oh my, I love this. I want to homestead. I want to grow my own food, and I want to grow my own medicinals. I want to make all my own stuff for my family."
That's my alignment now, and I've been doing it all, especially since I moved onto the farm. It's made it a lot easier make my own medicine and my own body care products. I'm able to contribute more to the project of Soul Fire Farm because of my own desires as a homesteader. And as a mama.
Q. What is your relationship with the land?
My relationship with the land is one of reciprocity. My first summer here in 2019, I was stunned by how connected you can feel to soil. I didn't even realize that was possible, growing up in a concrete jungle like LA. But being here and seeing the land change throughout the seasons, planting these little seeds and watching them grow, harvesting them, amending the soil, and then doing that and over — it's been incredible. It reminds me of how miraculous and amazing the whole process of growing food is and how this dirt is actually creating life. It makes me feel really grateful.
Q. What does BIPOC mean and why does it matter?
BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Some people have challenges with this term, because they feel like it limits or reduces who you are into one little phrase. But what we have used it for, especially in the community here at Soul Fire, is to include folks who represent the minority groups in this country and across the world.
It matters because it allows us to focus our attention. Soul Fire Farm was made with BIPOC in mind. Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color come here. This is a space for us, an intentional focus on a specific group of people who traditionally tend to be left out and not given seats at the table.
Q. What can people without Indigenous and African American background do to help support your community's mission?
One of the ways that we hope to create a fuller community for those who are not BIPOC is through some of our trainings. I think the first step is taking a training, such as Uprooting Racism. It really helps people break open what we're talking about and figure out where they may plug into that. It gives people insight — especially folks who are not people of color —into how we are, how they are, and how we all contribute to racism, injustice, and inequities within the food system and how we can shift things. Those trainings are excellent, and they're made for everyone.
Our community farm days and farm tours are open to everyone as well. Or, if you don't live nearby, you can reach out to organizations in your area doing similar work. There are so many out there, and most of them close friends of ours, because we're all in the same line of work!
Q. Do you have a spirit herb?
My spirit herb has to be Lemon Balm. We're not from the same place, but it was the first plant that I engaged with, so it's really close to my heart. It was the first plant that I ever made a hydrosol from. It's also one of my favorite plants because it's a perennial, meaning it comes back year after year. I love how it smells and how it helps soothe my stomach. I love you, Lemon Balm.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis).
To learn more about Soul Fire Farm or support their mission, please visit their website.
Lauren Ann Nichols attended The Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism and received her certificate in medical herbalism. She is the owner of Herbal Vice, a small batch skin care company, and grows the herbs used in her products. She is currently a customer service representative at WishGarden Herbs.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.