Southern Heroes

Cindy Ayers Elliott: The Agrarian Evangelist

The upstart Mississippi farmer brings a new mindset to tending the land

Photo: Rory Doyle

Ayers Elliott stands among a crop of Swiss chard at her Foot Print Farms.

Ten years ago, Cindy Ayers Elliott was no farmer. “I’d never grown anything in my life except for flowers, and even those were plastic,” she says with a laugh. Now the Mississippi native and former New York investment banker runs Foot Print Farms on sixty-eight acres in Jackson, Mississippi. There, she uses USDA techniques, programs, and policies in her quest to help combat the state’s soaring rates of obesity and diabetes by getting healthy food on local tables and educating other would-be farmers in the process. She started with raised beds of cherry tomatoes on a tennis court—now dubbed the Serena Williams Tennis Garden—and has transformed her land into a full-fledged farm that rears goats, herbs, fruits, and vegetables as typical as collards and as novel as kohlrabi. Each week, Ayers Elliott drives the Pink Lady, her bright pink converted school bus, to deliver crops to farmers’ markets in the area as well as to pop-ups in nearby food deserts. These days, she spends a lot of her time teaching small-scale farmers the tricks she’s picked up along the way. “We’re trying to change the mindset about farming, especially for people of color,” she says. “It’s not sharecropping and it’s not slavery. It’s a legitimate way to make money and grow healthier food and minds.” She also spreads her know-how to young people by hosting classes, camps, 4-H clubs—even the Wingfield High School football team. “Many of the players were not eating properly,” she recalls, “and the coach asked if they could come work and glean my fields. These young men went from not caring to taking on a new demeanor about themselves. Five of those men I helped send to college. Three even majored in agriculture.”


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