Local Farmer Shares Bounty of Fresh Produce to Hundreds of Families
Cindy Ayers Elliott fights food insecurity in her Mississippi community
En español | Once, I was an investment banker on Wall Street, but after 9/11, I moved back home to Mississippi and became executive director for a nonprofit, working on agricultural policy. But I knew I couldn't help farmers just by talking policy to them. I needed to immerse myself in their world. For me, the questions were: What is lacking in my community, and how can I help?
At a Glance
- 450 families served
- 3,150 pounds of food provided weekly
- $6,750 in value per week
Here in West Jackson, most people are food insecure. The nearest grocery store is up to 15 miles away. We have a higher-than-average incidence of diabetes and heart disease, in part because healthy foods have not always been accessible. So in 2010, I decided to start a 68-acre farm here. We do community-supported agriculture, also called CSA, in which our customers purchase subscriptions in exchange for a weekly share of fresh fruits and vegetables — it's 7 pounds of produce for $15, or 15 pounds for $30. This gives our community access to fresh, healthy, affordable food.
We also provide technical assistance to people to farm their own land. People can lease a quarter- to half-acre of land for $1, or earn a plot of land in exchange for sweat equity. Right now I have five farmers doing that.
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When the coronavirus hit, we knew we needed to do whatever we could to make sure that people could eat. Who would have believed in America that people would be fighting for food in grocery stores? The Jackson Public Schools asked if we would provide fresh produce for students and families. We went to companies and private parties for donations to help bring the cost down, and we've given out 450 baskets each Thursday, since the beginning of April, to three schools in the city's most impoverished areas. The need is double and triple what we're able to provide, but we're doing as much as we can. We have to come together to serve those most in need all of the time, but especially during hard times.
I gave up designer suits for overalls, but I have no problem working in the soil. I want people to see me running this business and say to themselves, I can do that.