Foot Print Farms is a 68-acre urban farm inside the Jackson city limits. Investment banker turned farmer, Dr. Cindy Ayers-Elliott, raises goats and grows squash, peppers, greens, tomatoes, okra, watermelon, cabbage and more in the fertile soil of Mississippi.
Foot Print Farms also buzzes with human energy—catalyzing interest in small farming and getting Jackson excited about sustainability. Foot Print Farms is leading a cooperative movement to support farms and expand healthy food options—the Farm 2 Faith project.
Dr. Cindy Ayers Elliott isn’t just planting seeds in Jackson to grow crops, she’s planting seeds in the minds of youth to build a legacy of knowledge to sustain the community. “Growing up in Mississippi with my grandparents during the Civil Rights movement, our home was a safe house used to shelter voter registration activists from danger.” Dr. Ayers-Elliott recalls, “My grandparents said that I need to go get my armor so I can come back and fight. That armor they spoke about was education.”
Dr. Ayers-Elliott’s quest for knowledge took her to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where she earned her Bachelors in Administration and my MBA. She worked as an investment banker, and purchased the land that became Foot Print Farm with her first bonus check in 1994. After the tragedy of 9/11, Elliot’s second quest in life took root—pursuing her PhD in Urban Higher Education. But after earning her PhD, Elliot’s heart still yearned for more. “I boxed up my stilettos and red bottoms and bought a pair of work boots.” Ayers-Elliott says, “Through this journey, my passion, Foot Print Farms was born.”
Remembering how her grandparents organized, Dr. Ayers-Elliot knew the root of the Black community is still the church. “I started to organize churches in an effort to get fresh, healthy food to the people of the community. This was my big ‘aha!’ moment.” Ayers-Elliot says. Through that organizing, Farm 2 Faith was born, joining the forces of Footprint Farms, the Mississippi Faith Based Coalition, and The Good Life. Footprint Farms also plans on partnering with USDA SNAP program to allow access to local affordable, healthy fresh food to its program participants.
The plan is to deliver to ten churches and have 20 parishioners from each to buy 15 pounds of food per week. A member will be trained at each church to share healthy cooking knowledge and tips on how to utilize the food that week. “This will impact thousands of people—many who have nothing in their pockets and nothing more than a plant in their backyards.” says Ayers-Elliot. The community will receive food produced in and by their neighbors and also have an opportunity to learn and grow as farmers.
Dr. Ayers-Elliott entered Whole Food Market with the intention of forming a partnership for local growers when she was introduced to Whole Cities Foundation. “I had ideas about how to get local food to the people of our communities.” Ayers-Elliott says, “Whole Cities offered the opportunity for us to have a major impact while enabling us to open a ‘Whole’ new avenue for agriculture in the city of Jackson.” Whole Cities and Dr. Cindy Ayers-Elliott hope to create a ripple effect in the state of Mississippi with a model that is designed to be sustainable and duplicable both nationally and internationally.