Cindy Ayers Elliott is one of USA Today’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women across the country who have made a significant impact. The program launched in 2022 as a continuation of Women of the Century, a 2020 project that commemorated the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.
The red-bottom shoes are gone.
The iconic Christian Louboutin designer heels aren’t quite farm-appropriate.
The dusty boots with the sunflower print on them are now in place as Cindy Ayers Elliott walks through some of the most fertile soil in the world on 68 acres in Hinds County.
Her goal, through Foot Print Farms, is to provide healthy food options and educate Mississippians on how to better feed themselves as well as how to provide for themselves through urban agriculture.
There are specialty crops, vegetables, and livestock farm, with a focus on agri-tourism for community development in Jackson. Dedicated to growing an array of fruits and vegetables, raising meat goats and cattle, she believes that planting seeds in the earth will grow fresh vegetables. However, planting a seed in the minds of young people will create new opportunities.
USA TODAY’s Women of the Year honoree for Mississippi: Cindy Ayers Elliott
Cindy Ayers Elliott of Foot Print Farms shares about finding her roots in Mississippi and giving back to the community.
Hannah Mattix, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
With her background in dealing with governmental agencies and finance, Ayers-Elliott has been able to break through mountains of red tape to help make a difference for the disenfranchised of Mississippi.
While some consider her a rock star in the world of business and agriculture in Mississippi, she really is a superhero, as Google portrayed her in a recent animated feature as she was honored as one of the women in business in America.
From New York investment banker to Mississippi farmer, Ayers-Elliott is USA TODAY’s Women of the Year honoree for Mississippi.
This story has been edited for clarity and brevity.
My ancestors paved the way; what they did with what they had and still made it work. For me, I never really looked closely at that until it was right in my face. You don’t realize it. I think the pandemic showed a lot of people how important it is to be able to grow your own food. I think they realize how important it is and what it takes to grow it. For me, there is a great history of people, the good and the bad, of what can be done to make a difference. And for me, health and how do we do something to help. And that was one of the driving forces for me: We can do something with the problems in front of us.
You see it right now. Now, what are we offering to help? So that way of paving came out of need. I’m trying to pave the way for more people to understand the importance of taking care of the earth, the importance of having access to growing your own food and healthy foods, and also create an economic arm.
Almost every day for me is a proud moment. When I can go into an area or a store or a farmer’s market and I can see food that was grown by farmers that’s there, it makes me proud even if it’s not my food. What makes me so proud, too, is to be in a place or store and someone who’s bought your produce comes, says, “I had that kale, and it was some of the best I have had.” You don’t know them, but they know you. Yeah. And then that smile comes and for me, that’s the aha moment to know you are making a difference. Every day I wake up, that is a proud moment because I know that what I’m doing is gonna make a difference in someone’s life right then and there.
In my lowest points, I’m saying, “OK, I know this is wrong and doesn’t work. Who can help change this? Where are the change agents for this?” I have to be that catalyst to help that happen. Dealing with bureaucracy is a low point that brings out that fight of knowing that I got to do something. I can’t wait for someone else to do it. I have to do something.
You know what, that’s an easy one. It really is. Because my definition of courage is getting up every day and making a difference. My definition of courage is being able to step out, see something around you, and see that it’s not right and speak up. So, my definition of courage is not being strong, it’s being vocal. It’s also being vocal to the right ears. To see the courage piece, to make a difference, means you got to be able to have that stress to say something and do something. But a lot of times, we want to say, but we don’t know who to say it to.
Every day that we have is a day to change and to make a difference to speak it. I believe in speaking it, but always in the right tone and to the right person. It can be a mantra or a guiding principle that you live your life by. And it can be something that you have been living your life by since the day you were put on this planet, or it could be something you’ve learned.
So many people. I look back at some great writers that wrote back in the day of things that are still happening. I look up to a lot of people who are still struggling but they never give up, and they find the courage to do it. I think that if they never give up, then why should I? I look up to those ancestors and those history makers, especially women. But you can look at the unsung heroes as well as the heroes that were out there. You know, you always think about people like Fannie Lou Hamer, of course for us in Mississippi. You can look at a certain genre of truth and my gosh, look at what this one woman did to change everything for us all.
I also look at the great Maya Angelou and some of the great writers that are out there and just say, wow, now how do you express that? How do you get that out? There are the unsung heroes, those moms that are out there every day trying to work, working for minimum wages, trying to still support their family.
Oh, my younger me? Yeah. Oh my gosh. I would tell myself to remember your principles of why you are here. I’m telling my younger self that because of the rearing you have the foundation of those early days. Stand on them. I’m telling my young me to believe in those principles and build on those and then you have a strong foundation. You are going to fall but get back up and keep going. The thing I still tell my younger self, and even my older self, is that you will meet your other self again. Just believe and keep your principles and read. Read great people and read deeply.