Black History Month Reading List

February 22, 2024

In honor of Black History Month, MOFGA is excited to highlight Black agrarian and environmental history. We took a look back at books we reviewed in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener featuring diverse perspectives from Black voices. This list includes celebrations of Black agrarian joy, spiritual traditions, intersectional environmentalism and more. 

Book Cover: The Art Practice of Spiritual Herbalism

The Art & Practice of Spiritual Herbalism: Transform, Heal, & Remember with the Power of Plants and Ancestral Medicine” by Karen M. Rose, Fair Winds Press, 2022 

Each chapter in “The Art & Practice of Spiritual Herbalism” covers a different system and the herbs to support it (like many other herbalism books), but author Karen M. Rose weaves through “orishas,” the body systems they guide, plants they are identified with, and colorful illustrations of them. This book is a great introduction for folks unfamiliar with orishas, the spirits that originate in the Yoruba religion and are key in many religions of the African diaspora. Besides being full of the wisdom of plants, this book is full of general wisdom on how to live a healthful life. One of the suggestions author Karen M. Rose gives is to decolonize your routine. She speaks to how in our capitalist society we eat when work dictates and encourages folks to follow the rhythms that exist in us naturally. So many of us could benefit from changing the pace of our lives, but it can be hard in our current times. “The Art & Practice of Spiritual Herbalism” is a tool that supports readers to do so. 

–  Denise DeSpirito

Black Earth Wisdom: Soulful Conversations with Black Environmentalists” by Leah Penniman, Harper Collins, 2023

With “Black Earth Wisdom,” the brilliant Leah Penniman does something that most successful writers aren’t inclined to do for their sophomore books: pass the mic. In doing so, Penniman has created an essential primer for intersectional environmentalism that should be required reading for anyone who cares about protecting the Earth. Every conversation builds on one another in enough ways that every word feels essential in the end. All together, “Black Earth Wisdom” manages to thread the needle between philosophy, poetry and practical action. It is a book that readers can come back to time and again, to serve as a reference or a guide to even more knowledge by way of introduction to voices often overlooked in the landscape of white-washed environmentalism.

– Sam Schipani

In the April 2023 episode of MOFGA’s Common Ground Radio, host Holli Cederholm discussed “Black Earth Wisdom” with Leah Penniman and Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro and author of “Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors.” They talked about the contributions of Black people to environmental thought, as well as the ancient ancestral practices of listening to the earth. Both “Black Earth Wisdom” and “Nature Swagger” work to deepen the relationship between Black people and the land by recording and celebrating an intrinsic connection. Speaking of her work with Outdoor Afro, Mapp underscored the importance of representation to a sense of belonging. 

Review A Darker Wilderness

A Darker Wilderness: Black Nature Writing from Soil to Stars” Edited by Erin Sharkey Milkweed Editions, 2023

For many readers, the idea of “nature writing” evokes elegant prose about living off the land, or taking long treks through mountainous terrain, written by mostly white men and a smattering of heralded women. “A Darker Wilderness: Black Nature Writing from Soil to Stars” flips that paradigm on its head by centering the voices of a range of Black writers. With rich observation and poetic reflection that is characteristic of the form, “A Darker Wilderness” is a collection of beautifully written essays that leads the reader to question what it means to write about — and be a part of — our natural world.

– Sam Schipani

We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land and Legacy” by Natalie Baszile, Amistad, 2021

When you imagine a farmer, what comes to mind? For many, it’s a white man in plaid and jeans in an expansive field with a tractor. Author Natalie Baszile begins “We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy” with a similar image, describing a mural meant to be a tribute to farmers. While there are many farmers who fit this image, Baszile asks, what do we miss when we keep our eyes narrowed to one version of farming? What stories would Black farmers tell? The essays, interviews, photos and poems that comprise this anthology provide a historical and present-day answer.

– Katie Spring

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