Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarship Recognizes Outstanding Leadership in Sustainable Agriculture

Posted on June 26, 2023
Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarship Recognizes Outstanding Leadership in Sustainable Agriculture

Scholars Embody Hayes’ Dedication to Advancing Racial Equality

For Immediate Release Washington, DC, June 20, 2023 – The Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network (SAAFON), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), and Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) announced the names of three students selected to receive the 2023 Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarship. Three students: Zymora Davinchi, Miles Lee, and Rodnisha Owens will each receive $5,000 awards to support their studies and bolster their ongoing efforts to advance racial equity in the food and farm system. 

The scholarship pays tribute to Cynthia Hayes, who served as SAAFON’s former director and played a pivotal role in establishing the first network for African American organic farmers in the United States. Hayes greatly influenced the development of NSAC’s efforts to expand opportunities for young leaders of color in the sustainable food and agriculture movement. Now in its sixth year, the scholarship program aims to support Black and Indigenous students within MANRRS who have a keen interest in pursuing a Bachelor of Environmental Science degree.

“We are privileged and honored to acknowledge these three outstanding student leaders who embody Cynthia Hayes’ passion for racial equity and sustainable agriculture. Hayes collaborated closely with NSAC as we purposefully sought to support the next generation of leaders of color in the sustainable food movement. Hayes’ profound insights and unwavering dedication to our shared mission of constructing an equitable food and farming system have left a legacy that continues to empower younger generations,” commented Kelsey Watson, Grassroots Co-Director at NSAC.

“The Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarship honors the substantial impact of Cynthia Hayes’ work, not only in the founding of SAAFON, but in her immense contributions to building a sustainable agriculture movement that visibilizes the brilliance of Black farmers. In the spirit of this legacy, we continue to support the next generation of agricultural leaders, and are proud to award scholarships to these exceptional students.,” noted Whitney Jaye, Co-Director and Director of Strategic & Programmatic Development at SAAFON.

Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) is committed to the recruitment, development, and placement of diverse talent in impactful spaces in the agricultural and natural resource arena. This partnership with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has helped further the MANRRS mission by providing support to students to further their education in the food and agriculture sector. Together, MANRRS, SAAFON, and NSAC have increased diversity, representation, and meaningful impact in the lives of our next generation leaders in the agricultural sciences and related careers,” commented Ashantáe Smith, Business Manager for the National Society of MANRRS. 


Biographies from each of this year’s winners are included below:

Zymora Cleopatra Davinchi (she/her) grew up in Vermont and has family roots in the American South. Zymora graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Communications and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of Vermont and is now pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Health, focusing on medical racism and social determinants of health. Zymora works for a Black Femme-owned urban homestead, botanica, wholeness retreat, and educational center in Vermont, as the Program Manager/Assistant Director, operating the ‘Flying Fish Fellowship’ (a paid Afro-Indigenous herbalism/homesteading immersion experience for Vermonters of Color), and apprentices in the botanica with founder Candace Taylor, as a community herbalist making free homestead-grown medicine for BIPOC. Zymora is a food, land, and racial justice advocate in Vermont’s local food system, most interested in community organizing, mutual aid (SUSU), wealth redistribution, sustainable agriculture, and preventive health care.

Miles Lee (he/him) is a Junior Agricultural and Environmental Systems student from Decatur, Georgia who currently attends North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina where he is focusing on developing sustainable land and food systems. His interest in agriculture began early on as he would find himself outside his childhood home digging holes looking for earthworms, unaware that earthworms serve as potential indicators of healthy soils. Inspired by his interest growing up, Miles applied for the USDA 1890 Scholarship Program, a scholarship opportunity offered through the USDA for students planning to study agriculture or related disciplines. Miles recently interned with the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Nevada and had the opportunity to conduct soil testing in the Mojave National Preserve, assist in the development of water-smart infrastructure in limited-resource regions, and learn of ways to help small, beginning, or limited-resource farmers obtain technical assistance with NRCS programs.

Rodnisha Owens (she/her) is a Detroit native with a culinary background. Rodnisha is a rising sophomore at Virginia State University. Rodnisha is the president of Central Virginia Young Farmers- an affiliate of the Young Farmers Coalition and also works with MANNRS and MAPS at Virginia State University. Rodnisha is obsessed with the unknown and the cause and effect of the environment, social status, and financial impact on how, why, and who has access to the necessities to live an abundant life. 


Contact: Laura Zaks
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Tel. 347.563.6408


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:


About Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Science (MANRRS)
Headquartered in Atlanta, GA, MANRRS promotes academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in agriculture, natural resources and related sciences. It is our goal to provide the student members (junior high school through doctoral programs) of our organization with the support to become productive citizens by engaging them in leadership development activities, educational opportunities, job readiness training, and facilitating internship placement and permanent employment, with special emphasis on agriculture, natural resources, and related sciences. MANRRS encourages and promotes Agriculture, Natural Resources, and related STEM programs in an effort to interest and attract underrepresented students and professionals into pursuing educational and career opportunities in these respective areas.