The soil is dark and rich in Mississippi, much like its history. Agriculture accounts for over one-third of exports in the state. However, 1 in 4 children in Mississippi do not know where their next meal will come from and much of the rural state lives in a perpetual food deficit. It was reported in 2014 by the Crossroads Resource Center that 90 percent of the food consumed in the state is imported. In 2012—the most recent year data are available—Mississippi farmers and ranchers received over 11 times as much income from exports as they did from federal subsidies and loans. Only about 43 percent of Mississippi’s farms receive federal support, with Black farmers receiving a very small percentage of said aid. Black farmers who have managed to hold on to their land make less than $40,000 annually, compared with over $190,000 by white farmers, due in part to Black farmers amassing only one-third the acreage of white farmers. In the midst of a food crisis and constant attacks from large agri-businesses, many Black-owned operations like Footprint Farms continue the fight against food insecurity in Mississippi.
From Mississippi okra to Jamaican callaloo, Footprint Farms, the largest urban farm in the state, brings affordable produce and a fresh take on community involvement to Jackson residents. Footprint Farms was founded by Cindy Ayers-Elliot in January 2010 with the goal of providing Black Mississippians with food education and access, after recognizing a serious fresh food deficit in the city of Jackson. The farm grew quickly from raised beds in a tennis court, to an over 68-acre spread growing a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, meat goats, chickens, cattle, and horses. The farm uses a variety of growing techniques such as high tunnels (indoor greenhouse farming) and open fields to ensure production.
Footprint Farms offers a variety of vegetables such as squash, cucumbers, melons and greens. They also grow seasonal fruits and herbs like blueberries, ginger and turmeric. In addition to foods that are native to Mississippi, Elliot likes to bring in plants from other areas of the diaspora — like Jamaican callaloo — also known as “Jamaican spinach.” According to Elliot, planting seeds is just one part of the farm’s mission. She stated, “We do more than just plant seeds in the ground. We plant seeds in the mind.”
Elliot partners with other experts in the field to bring knowledge to the community. One of her partners, Chef Nick Wallace, is a Mississippi native who has received the James Beard Foundation Award, one of the highest culinary awards and was a contestant on Food Network’s “Chopped.” Chef Wallace brings food from the farm to the table by hosting demonstrations on how to prepare fresh vegetable in ways that retain the most nutrition. Another partner of Elliot’s is Dr. William Evans, head of the Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion at Mississippi State Unversity. Dr. Evans researches innovative cultivation techniques that are then implemented on the crops. “There are so many unnamed heroes that I can speak to,” said Elliot. She credits these partnerships for creating opportunities for others at the farm. She says that these relationships help “to bring the community together to create greatness.”
Footprint Farms works actively to decrease food insecurity across the state by engaging in community-supported agriculture (CSA). The farm offers CSA boxes with fresh fruits and veggies that are certified by the USDA and accept EBT cards, WICK, and senior vouchers as payment. The CSA boxes come in two sizes; a seven-pound box for $15 and a fifteen-pound box for $30 dollars. Boxes can be picked up from a few locations, with several days and time options. According to Dr. Elliot, these boxes accommodate different palates each month, with a variety of in-season goodies. July’s box included corn, tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, onions, callaloo and a selection of fruits.
She tells us, “It is important to have a plan of implementation to bring experts in to look at the problem, as it relates to food insecurity. The outcome has to be what’s best for the community. From foundations to the private sector to the government, these institutions are all important players in fighting food insecurity.” Elliot hopes others will support Footprint Farms by visiting the farm or attending a pop-up market held at the Mississippi Farmer’s Market on Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 am-1 pm.
Contact and Visit:
4945 South Dr, Jackson, MS 39209
MS Farmer’s Market
929 High St, Jackson, MS 39202