Land, Food and Race
Bearing Witness Retreat
September 21 - September 24, 2017
Soul Fire Farm 1972 NY-2, Petersburg, NY 12138
Bearing Witness to the U.S. Food System
In 2017 Unity Tables collaborated with Soul Fire Farm to present an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the injustices in the food system through the Zen Peacemaker tradition of Bearing Witness. At this retreat we explored racism and inequity in the food system through mindfulness, embodiment, and social action by bearing witness to:
- The natural world: the soil, the elements, plant and animal life
- Racism in our food systems and communities
- Activist farmers building a just and sustainable future
While this retreat contained some history and activities you might also find on a tour, the point was not to merely gain information. Rather, we realized an embodied, mindful and heartful experience of interconnection. We brought familiarity, understanding and intimacy to parts of humanity characterized by trauma, separation, and invisibility in the food system. We experienced that another world is not only possible - it’s on the way.
This retreat was presented by Unity Tables, hosted and supported by Soul Fire Farm. The event was not a Soul Fire Farm program and may not necessarily incorporate the norms, cultural elements, or demographic requirements of workshops led exclusively by Soul Fire Farm staff. This retreat was in the spirit of the Zen Peacemaker Bearing Witness Retreats. It was not organized by Zen Peacemakers, Inc.
Check out photos from the retreat!
Rev. Francisco Lugoviña is a community gardener at the Greyston Foundation working with charter schools and La Finca del Sur-South Bronx Farmers, where he focused on race through the lens of growing food communally. He is a long-time resident and businessman in the Bronx, NY. Rev. Lugoviña teaches Peacemaker Circle work as a Roshi (Senior Teacher) in the Soto Zen and Zen Peacemaker lineages. He completed a Practicum in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Professionals. He has participated in Bearing Witness Retreats and pilgrimages to the high New Mexico desert, the sacred mountains of Tibet, Auschwitz-Bierkenau Concentration Camps, India, Shrilanka, Rwanda, as well as on the streets of New York City and other USA cities.
Leah Penniman (Manye Amidede Adelowu), founding Co-Director of Soul Fire Farm, is an educator, farmer, author, and food justice activist. Leah is part of a team that facilitates powerful food sovereignty programs - including farmer trainings for Black & Brown people, a subsidized farm food distribution program for people living under food apartheid, and domestic and international organizing toward equity in the food system. Leah was initiated as Manye (Queen Mother) in the Vodun-Krobo tradition in Ghana, baptized to Vodou through Milocan in Haiti, and initiated to Oya in the Yoruba-Ifa religion.
Ariel Pliskin is an ordained Minister in the Zen Peacemaker Order and certified yoga and mindfulness instructor. He has participated in and staffed several Bearing Witness Retreats on the streets, at Auschwitz and with Native Americans. Inspired by the experience of street retreats, Ariel founded the Stone Soup Cafe, a weekly pay-what-you-can community luncheon in Greenfield, MA. Every week, over 100 people from a variety of racial and socio-economic backgrounds gather to prepare, serve and share healthy, locally grown, delicious food. As the founder and Executive Director of Unity Tables, Ariel helped launch similar cafes around the United States. He is currently studying for a Masters of Social Work and he is the Path of Freedom Coordinator at the Prison Mindfulness Institute.
Photos by Maria Estevez and Andy Grant, 2017 Bearing Witness Retreat at Soul Fire Farm
I founded the Stone Soup Café in 2012, and later the non-profit organization Unity Tables, after participating in a street retreat in the tradition of the Zen Peacemakers. Eating in soup kitchens while living on the streets for days at a time, we found that service providers would often treat us with plenty of love, but not dignity. There was a strong sense of separation between those serving and those being served. At the Stone Soup Café and other community cafes supported through Unity Tables, we aim to transcend separation and nurture genuine human relationships as building blocks for the systemic change necessary to reduce hunger and poverty.
I left the Stone Soup Café board to start a Masters of Social Work program in 2017. Independent of Unity Tables, the Café continues to serve hundreds of community members in western Massachusetts each year. Since then, Unity Tables has focused on organizing the annual Land, Food, and Race Bearing Witness Retreat. Innovating the bearing witness tradition of the Zen Peacemakers, the retreat invites attendees to plunge deeply into grappling with some of the greatest issues of our day to inform healing and transformation.
-Ariel Pliskin, Unity Tables, Executive Director
Soul Fire Farm
Soul Fire Farm is committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system. We raise life-giving food and act in solidarity with people marginalized by food apartheid. With deep reverence for the land and wisdom of our ancestors, we work to reclaim our collective right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system. We bring diverse communities together on this healing land to share skills on sustainable agriculture, natural building, spiritual activism, health and environmental justice.
The Bearing Witness Tradition
Members of the Zen Peacemaker Order (ZPO) share commitment to a spiritual path combining meditation and social action. One core practice is the Bearing Witness Retreat (BWR). ZPO leaders have guided several hundred participants in Bearing Witness Retreats in places like Auschwitz, Rwanda and the Pine Ridge Reservation for the past two decades, bringing together diverse groups including those affected by large-scale trauma for deep listening and transformation. Soul Fire Farm and Unity Tables will lead a gathering inspired by this tradition, in order to bear witness to the food system and race in the Unity States.
BWR participants deeply plunge into an intensive personal practice and also to work to heal social wounds through a Peacemaking process based on the three Peacemaker tenets:
1. Not-Knowing by giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe
2. Bearing Witness to the joy and suffering of the world
3. Taking Action that arises from Not-Knowing and Bearing Witness
The ZPO defines peace as wholeness. Peacemaking, therefore, is a process of bearing witness to all voices and taking actions that arise from witnessing. Bearing Witness retreats facilitate Peacemaking before, during, and after the retreat.