Cindy Ayers Elliott once worked on Wall Street—but has since traded in her high heels for a pair of work boots. The former CEO and investment banker has made a life-changing move to her Jackson home-turned-farm, where she rears goats for meat and grows organic vegetables.
Now, Elliott is CEO of Foot Print Farms, which is home to 30 goats and a deer-proof vegetable garden she calls the Serena Williams Tennis Garden, because she established it on the site of an unused, fenced-in tennis court.
After six years working for Mississippi Treasurer Marshall Bennett and eight years for Chapman Spira and Carson, an investment banking firm in New York City’s financial district, Elliott was ready to change her pace, return to Mississippi and convert her homestead into a farm. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helped her do just that—by ensuring her farm is productive and environmentally friendly.
“Believe it or not, they’re not making any more land, so we have to be good stewards,” she says.
Elliott is enrolled in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which has helped her install cross-fencing and two watering facilities, among other practices. The fencing allows Elliott to create separate pastures, a necessary measure to seclude sickly goats. “They’re temperamental animals,” she says.
A problem for many small farmers is meeting the demand of large food companies, whose minimum requirements can prevent them from selling their harvests. Elliott says this distribution issue can be solved when farmers band together. She is part of the Mid-Delta Co-op, and she says co-ops can help many small farmers like her.
Teaching others to farm is important to Elliott. She wants her goat ranch and organic vegetable garden to serve as a place where people can learn to farm, especially single mothers and people who may be socially or economically disadvantaged.
“Women especially have to understand that is doesn’t take 100 acres to make a living,” she says.
Keeping up with paperwork is important both when receiving federal assistance and running a business, Elliott says. She formed the first African American-owned bank in the state and also served as an administrator at the Mississippi Treasury.
“You have to look at this as a business,” she says. “That’s why it is so important to have great records. This is my future…I want to let the land take care of me.”
Find out more about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Check out more conservation stories on the USDA blog.
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