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'City girl' finds career working in agriculture
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Natasha Haynes has never lived or worked on a farm, but her professional career with the Mississippi State University Extension Service circles around agriculture just the same.
Haynes is an Extension agent in Hinds County and host of "The Food Factor," the weekly video feature produced by the MSU Extension Service. She grew up in Jackson and earned a bachelor's degree in family and consumer sciences from Alcorn State University.
“I was a city girl going to work for Extension in 1995,” Haynes said. “Mississippi State came to recruit at Alcorn State, and after my agent-in-training time in Hinds County, I accepted a job as an area home economist in Lincoln and Pike counties.”
She moved through a few positions in the southwest region of the state before settling in Rankin County working for Extension in family and consumer sciences.
“Shortly after I began working for Extension, I had to work a livestock show in Lincoln County,” Haynes said. “The dairy specialist thought it would be fun if I showed his cow. He brought out the mama first, and after he realized I was scared to death, he brought out the calf.
“I won second place in showmanship with his dairy calf,” she said. “The farmers were laughing because I didn’t know how to show an animal, but I was very proud of that win and the fact that I got my picture in the paper.”
It was early in her Extension career that Haynes met Janice Jones, a now-retired Extension agent who worked in both Webster and Hinds counties.
“She is the reason I work for Extension,” Haynes said of Jones. “She was my lifesaver. She was a great mentor and person. She loves Extension and taught me a lot about people and understanding our clientele.”
Before Haynes began working for MSU, she completed a semester-long internship with Jones as part of her undergraduate degree requirements. Once Haynes joined Mississippi State, the two were again partnered, this time in a mentoring program that allowed seasoned employees to influence agents starting their Extension careers.
“Natasha was a wonderful, young Christian girl, and I knew immediately she would be an asset to the Extension Service,” Jones said. “I was thrilled to have the opportunity to get to know her. I hope she learned some things from me that helped in her career, and I know I learned from her.”
That mentoring relationship turned into a true friendship that continues to this day.
“The fact that she is successful in her career does not surprise me at all,” Jones said. “I have watched her grow and develop her skills, and she has a deep desire to serve. I could not be more proud of the fine, young woman she is.”
Along the way, Haynes earned a master’s degree in communications from Mississippi College. That degree opened doors for her to work in radio, newspaper and occasionally television in the McComb, Brookhaven and Jackson areas. This background, combined with her winning personality, landed her as host of Food Factor in 2015.
The show promotes nutrition and healthy lifestyles, and she is commonly called “the food lady” when spotted around the state.
“Because we’re discussing food, we try to spotlight Mississippi agricultural products and we promote farmers markets,” Haynes said. “Our overall mission is to promote health and nutrition, and that affects every person in Mississippi, regardless of age or occupation.”
Haynes, who serves as her own wardrobe and makeup artist, loves the color purple.
“If you ever see purple on the show, that’s something of mine personally,” she said. “I often wear purple tennis shoes on the show, and if you ever see a purple dish or accessory, that came from my house.”
View “The Food Factor” on local news programs in Jackson, Biloxi, Tupelo, Greenville and Meridian. The feature also can be seen weekly on “Farmweek,” the agricultural news show produced by the Office of Agricultural Communications, which airs on Mississippi Public Broadcasting and on the cable network RFD-TV. All episodes are available on YouTube and online at http://extension.msstate.edu/shows/the-food-factor.