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OUR CO-FOUNDER

CYNTHIA LOU NICHOLSON HAYES

September 14, 1950 – July 25, 2016

Cynthia was born to Thomas B. Nicholson and Lou Edna Nicholson on September 14, 1950. As a youngster, “Cindy” spent many of her early childhood summers at the home of her beloved grandmother (Muddy) in New Liberty, Kentucky. It was during those summer excursions, she learned of her family’s 80+ year history of being tobacco farmers. Who would have thought that as Cindy spent summers working alongside her grandmother in the family garden, eating tomatoes off the vine, riding on the tractor with Uncle Frankie, intensely listening to the process and labor it would take to have a successful tobacco crop, that the seed was being planted for that skinny, long-legged, beautiful granddaughter and niece to carry forward the love and respect for farmers and farming?

THE EARLY YEARS

Cindy attended Dayton Public School for her early years of learning and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1968 with special academic honors. She was awarded a full scholarship to attend the Quaker-established Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, which throughout her matriculation nurtured her academic abilities through its summer Upward Bound programs. During her studies at Earlham College, Cindy had an opportunity to go west and visit San Francisco, California, and fell in love with the city. She later moved there after attending Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. The Bay Area, including Oakland, became her home for the next 10 to 15 years.

 

The So Green Network no longer exists, however, this video provides a window into SAAFON’s history

THE BIRTH OF A LEADER

Cynthia embraced the diversity and vibrancy of the San Francisco Bay Area. Her love of people and cultures, and her desire to make the world better led her to focus her work in the areas of health and human services. Cynthia was always at her best when she was able to fill her heart with the love and support of like-minded friends, turning friends into family. While in the Bay Area, Cynthia used her skills and talents working in group homes for troubled teens and writing grants for nonprofit organizations. She found her work with nonprofits to be especially rewarding, and that work ultimately laid the foundation for all of her future endeavors.

While in the Bay Area, Cynthia met her life partner, Terry Hayes, at a reggae concert. In 1988, they moved to Chicago and wedded on July 7th of that year. They shared a love for the Caribbean, especially for Jamaica. In 1991, they moved to Montego Bay where they established Hayes Villa. While there, Cynthia worked with local farmers to produce value-added product, and organized a summer camp for US inner city boys to experience Black life and culture in a different part of the African Diaspora. In 2000, Terry and Cynthia moved to Savannah, GA where her work centered on land, environmental justice and the plight of African American farmers.

THE LEGACY YEARS

Cynthia’s community service continued when she moved South. Cynthia was always a diligent, selfless, persistent advocate for African American farmers. In 2006, she and Dr. Owusu Bandele from the Southern University Agriculture Center conducted organic certification trainings and workshops in Savannah, GA and Columbia, SC. These trainings and workshops resulted in over twenty farmers obtaining organic certification as a result, most of whom were African American. Cynthia did not stop there. She saw the necessity of having a network to keep these farmers connected, and so she formed SAAFON. Today, there are SAAFON members established across 10 U.S. States and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Cynthia was the founding member of several social justice and nonprofit organizations including Women in Rural Development, the So-Green Network, and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance. Her efforts also included youth programs, mentorships, and farmer-to-farmer trainings both in the US and in the US Virgin Islands. Cynthia’s powerful example of service has inspired many of the farmers who she served to be of service to others.

Cynthia rarely sought the spotlight, preferring to work behind the scenes and in direct contact with the farmers she served. Despite this, she was the recipient of several prestigious awards including the 2013 James Beard  Award and the 2013 Southern Foodways Alliance John Egerton Award.

“Mama Cynthia” was much loved and will be missed, but her vision, soul, and legacy will always be with us.