In Jackson, Mississippi, a Homegrown Hero
JACKSON, MS—Dr. Cindy Ayers is a Mississippi native, but she didn’t always raise vegetables, cattle, goats and fish. Fifteen years ago, she was an investment banker in New York City.
“Before, I was a suit-wearing, nails-and-hair-perfect, city slicker,” she says. “Now I have the most beautiful hats and work boots.”
But for Ayers, the move back to the land was about more than raising food: She wanted to raise up her community as well. She took a hard look at Mississippi’s food access and public health statistics and decided she couldn’t wait for someone else to fix things. Today she’s CEO of Foot Print Farms, a 68-acre urban farm in Jackson that’s a hub for a host of solution-minded projects, from a business incubator for young farmers to a fresh fruit and vegetable prescription program and a CSA called Farm to Faith that delivers weekly harvest shares to four Jackson churches.
In 2015, Ayers and her CSA customers got some great news when AARP Foundation launched Fre$h Savings, a nutrition incentive program. They engaged Wholesome Wave to launch program operations at 17 farmers markets in Tennessee and 13 markets in Mississippi. At these markets, SNAP participants who spend $10 on fresh fruits and vegetables have their purchasing power doubled. With a staff member stationed in Nashville, Wholesome Wave provides hands-on operational support to increase overall impact throughout Tennessee and Mississippi.
With Fre$h Savings in place, Ayers rallied members of Jackson churches to come to the farmers market, where they can shop with SNAP, start healthful habits and double their purchasing power. The result: Overall market traffic is way up, and over 1,734 SNAP customers are loading up on exactly what their families need: fresh produce. And Fre$h Savings isn’t just good for customers. It’s also helping to grow Foot Print Farms.
“Thanks to this program,” raves Ayers, “I have an outlet for all of the food that we grow. But more than that, it has allowed me to bring more fresh, local food to my community, and that’s what’s really important to me.”