The month of July is starting off on an exciting note for Cynthia Hayes, the executive director of the Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network and three African American and Native American farms after hosting representatives from the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation and 11th Hour Project – The Schmidt Family Foundation along with national and regional funders and food advocates on a two-day tour for the first time in the organization’s history.
“This was a unique opportunity for members of the funding community to tour and converse directly with rural black farmers growing organically in the Southeast and learn about their successes and challenges in a rapidly growing industry,” said Hayes who also works tirelessly with farmers in the Caribbean and Africa. Hayes, a 2013 James Beard Leadership Award recipient, will lead the group with stops at Three Sisters Coop/ American Indian Mothers in North Carolina, Field Farms – Sea Island Farmers Cooperative in South Carolina and Releford Organic Farm in Georgia.
Believing that farmers would be the best spokespeople for communicating their needs, Hayes first brought a group together in 2006 for a three-day intensive organic certification workshop. That planted the seed for what is now known as SAAFON a decade later.
Investing in a Just Regional Food System
Without a doubt, African American and Native American farmers in the Southeast region are engaged in creating a sustainable food system through environmentally smart agriculture. The demands from consumers for healthy foods and foods that are locally grown have created a new economic niche for many black small family farms in the region. Members of the sustainable agriculture funding community are exploring how to best invest in these organic farming communities and to create an innovative and racially just regional food system that provides healthy foods from the farmer to the community.
“This tour focused on telling a story of how the philanthropic community’s investment in a lucrative and vibrant industry can unlock the acreage of these African American and Native American producers and seed a strong and economic future that is good for the farmers, the soil and our Southeast regional food communities,” said Hayes. The tour took place Friday, July 1 – Saturday, July 2.
With roots firmly planted in the Southeast while also creating a strong international footprint, the work of Hayes and SAAFON is recognized as the only African American farmers’ network of its type with diverse partnerships that include Green for All, Florida A & M University, Sankofa NOLA and Slow Food International.
For moments from the tour, follow SAAFON on Twitter and the hashtag #SAAFONblackfarmstour2K16. For more information about SAAFON, how to get involved, partnership opportunities, education, and trainings, visit www.saafon.org.