NSAC's Blog

RELEASE: Cynthia Hayes Scholarship Awarded to Three Rising Stars in Sustainable Agriculture

May 9, 2019


Contact: Reana Kovalcik
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
202-547-5754, rkovalcik@sustainableagriculture.net

Cynthia Hayes Scholarship Awarded to Three Rising Stars in Sustainable Agriculture
Scholars exemplify Hayes’ commitment to racial equity and advancing opportunities for farmers of color

Washington, DC, May 9, 2019 – In partnership with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) recently presented scholarship awards to three students committed to working on issues that affect black farmers. The awardees, Vanessa Garcia Polanco, Tyneshia Griffin, and Najma Muhammad, were each presented with Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarships in the amount of $1,000 to help further their work in sustainable agriculture and with communities of color.

The scholarship’s namesake was SAAFON’s former director, a founder of the first network for African American organic farmers in the U.S., and an inspirational force in the development of NSAC’s initiatives around racial equity in food and agriculture. Cynthia was an ally in NSAC’s effort to increase opportunities for young leaders of color in the sustainable food and agriculture movement, with an eye toward creating a brighter future for all. The scholarship program, now in its third year, aims to support students of color within MANRRS who are interested in doing work within sustainable agriculture and are committed to working on issues that impact black farmers. 

“Like so many other organizations, NSAC benefited immensely from Cynthia’s wisdom and commitment to our work in building a just food and farming system,” said Margaret Krome, Interim NSAC Coalition Director and Director of the Policy Program of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (an NSAC member organization). “ Cynthia worked closely with NSAC as we very intentionally nurtured the next generation of leaders, especially leaders of color. It’s truly our privilege to acknowledge each year in her name three outstanding young leaders who embody her passion for sustainable agriculture and working with and for farmers of color.” 

“This scholarship honors the legacy of Cynthia Hayes, a pioneer in organizing ecologically sustainable Black farmers in the Southeastern United States,” said Tamara Jones, Executive Director of SAAFON. “Now more than ever, it is critical that we nurture a new generation of farmers who know how to manage land and grow food in ways that are healthy for people and the planet. We are particularly pleased to award Black students whose work forwards the multigenerational legacy of Black agrarianism.”

“What I like about the Cynthia Hayes scholarship is that it is non-traditional for the MANRRS organization,” said Ebony Webber, Chief Operating Officer of National MANNRS. “It gets MANRRS back to its roots, as we started as an organization for minority students doing work in the agricultural field and black farmers. We are proud of the students who spend their careers doing work that serves black farmers and who are making an impact in the communities in which they serve.”

The Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarships were presented in Kansas City at the 2019 MANNRS annual conference. Biographies and statements from each of this year’s winners are included below:

Vanessa Garcia Polanco, Michigan State University 

As a network member of Food Solutions New England and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Vanessa has worked across local, state and regional levels to promote democratic empowerment, racial equity, and the visibility of immigrants in food systems. Vanessa is an alumna of the Food Solutions New England Network Leadership Institute and the University of Rhode Island and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. Vanessa is a New American; as a woman of color immigrant from the Cibao Valley in the Dominican Republic, she brings her identity and experiences to inform her research and advocacy activities.

“As a Cynthia Hayes Scholar, I want to continue to seek opportunities to promote and advocate racial equity in food systems, agriculture, and environmental organizations,” said Vanessa. “I hope to get more involved with organizations that prioritize intersectional approaches to racial equity in food systems such as the Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network and the National Black Food & Justice Alliance, whose academic/research committee I recently joined. I am currently writing a blog post to encourage/ invite others to explore the legacy of Cynthia Hayes and commit to bringing racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in agriculture, food systems and beyond in our society.”

Tyneshia Griffin, Virginia Tech University 

Tyneshia Griffin is a graduating senior at Virginia Tech, where she studied geography and sociology, with a concentration in research methods. She has been a member of MANNRS throughout her college career, and credits MANRRS with helping her establish a sense of belonging in the agricultural and environmental field. She has participated in several undergraduate research projects, including the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Appalachian Teaching Project in New River Valley, VA, where she research community concerns about environmental pollution via air, surface water, and groundwater. Her love for her family and commitment to progressing racial equity and environmental stewardship inspires her to remain steadfast in the long-term work of establishing social change in agriculture. This summer, Tyneshia will launch her professional career in agriculture by advocating for sustainable agriculture with NSAC as their Grassroots Intern.

“Receiving the Cynthia Hayes Scholarship is transformative for me because it will help me connect with sustainable agriculture professionals from the southeast, with whom I share visions for the future of agriculture in the United States,” said Tyneshia. “Building a network is essential to this work, and I am so grateful and excited to have the opportunity to forge these relationships, especially so early on in my career.”

Najma Muhammad, Michigan State University 

Najma was born and raised in Detroit, MI, a city she describes as full of life and potential. She grew interest in agriculture, and had her first on-farm experience at 11 years old, when she assisted with the building of a hoop house at D-town Farms. Najma’s interest in agriculture was pushed forward by her involvement with her school’s after-school community gardening program and her involvement with Earthworks Urban Farms. She later realized that many of her passions stemmed from her love for the land, the people who occupy space on the land, and community. These experiences and passions led Najma to her current academic path in Urban Planning with a focus on social planning and food systems planning.

“This summer, I have the opportunity to go to Peru and engage with a community in hopes of leading a community garden project at an alternative school,” said Najma. “This trip will give me the opportunity to use my skills in agriculture, as well as expand my understanding of farming on an international scale.”


About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more and get involved at: https://sustainableagriculture.net

Categories: Press Releases

Comments are closed.