A Passion for Sustainability Leads Cierra Martin ’15 to the Global Crop Diversity Trust

Major: Commerce and Business
Hometown: Kansas City, MO and Hurley, MS

Cierra Martin grew up in rural Mississippi, so the opportunity to live in nearby Memphis was a big draw when choosing to attend Rhodes. Ironically, it was her move to Memphis that spurred her interest in something she had grown up with all along: farming.

Martin credits her first-year writing seminar with Professor Judith Haas, The Policies and Poetics of Food, with spurring her passion for issues related to food production and sustainability. “It was that class that really ignited the spark on a personal level,” says Martin. That year, she started only eating locally sourced meat and became overall more conscious about the food decisions she was making.

Professor Haas’ course inspired Martin to continue learning about food-related issues. This led her to the Bobby Lanier Farm Park in Germantown, where she began working in the summer in 2013. Owned and maintained by the city, this recreational space was in the midst of developing an outdoor kitchen and a children’s summer program. As an intern, Martin had the chance to conduct research on the front end while also developing classes for the newly developed program. “It was all about sustainability and showing kids where our food comes from and how to grow your own fruits and vegetables sustainably,” she explains.

Next, combining her interest in food issues with her love of business, Martin took a job with Bring It Food Hub. Since the nonprofit was just starting 
up, she had the opportunity to help build the organization’s brand as a marketing intern. Using her graphic design skills, learned early on when her mother started a newspaper, she helped Bring It develop a new website. “I’ve been able to apply those skills to every job I’ve had,” she says. In addition, she applied the knowledge learned in the business department, which she says enabled her to see the big picture when she met with chefs around the city to help develop the food hub’s network.

When Martin got the chance to study abroad through the Theodore William Eckels scholarship, she chose to work at an urban farm in Dublin, Ireland. There she researched more than 150 varieties of the potato crop and used her marketing skills to develop campaigns promoting the potato as a means of world food security. She also learned the importance of crop diversity in the prevention of worldwide famine while in Ireland.

Once she returned to Memphis, Martin began looking into jobs in the sustainability sector. In her search she discovered the Cary Fowler ’71 Environmental Studies Fellowship, made possible by Steve and Riea Lainoff, and learned more about the Global Crop Diversity Trust in Bonn, Germany. Working with genebanks and partners in countries around the world, the mission of the Crop Trust is to protect the world’s seed base. After graduating last May, Martin began working at the Crop Trust as part of the Partnerships and Communications Team. “What's so great about the Crop Trust is how small and effective it is. While I work in Partnerships and Communications, both the Science and Finance teams are right down the hall, so I get a ton of exposure to other types of work,” says Martin. “I don't think I'd necessarily have that opportunity in another organization. Our work varies day to day, but that's part of what keeps it fresh and interesting for me.”

Martin recently accepted an offer from the Crop Trust to remain as the Communications Assistant for another year, and will be staying with the Trust through August 2017. Once she returns to the U.S., Martin hopes to obtain her MBA and eventually work for a nonprofit. “To be honest, I'm not sure where I will go next, but I know that the Crop Trust is setting the bar high. I want to go to work every day knowing that my work, in some way or another, contributes to a better world than the one I arrived in, and that's my main priority moving forward.”

By Emily Clark ’15 and Ali Swee ’16