Celebrity chef Andre Rush and Cindy Ayers Elliott of Foot Print Farms in Jackson are among experts set to share their knowledge at the Healing Springs Farmacy Mississippi Chapter VegFest Saturday, Nov. 30 in Crawford. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors to New Beginnings Farm at 760 Starkville Road in Crawford will have an opportunity to visit with vendors, watch demos, see some of the latest hemp fashions and accessories and learn about topics ranging from canning and midwifery to herbs and martial arts. The focus is on vegetable-centric eating and overall wellness for body, mind and spirit.
Organizer Regina Willis hopes the free event will increase awareness of how much the food we consume impacts our lives.
Inspiration for VegFest rose from Willis’ connection to the Healing Springs Farmacy movement founded by Tinece Payne in North Carolina.
“It’s a nonprofit, and her vision is to move people from poverty into self-sufficiency through agriculture,” Willis explained. “She created a co-op of women — it’s about 75 of us — a co-op of diverse women who are coming together and pooling their resources and skills.”
Willis is eager to welcome Rush, Elliott and others who will join in promoting the message of healthier living.
“Our goal is to also introduce people curious about veganism and plant-based eating to amazing tasting foods and act as a guide on ways to incorporate a vegan lifestyle,” said Willis. “Celebrity chef Andre Rush will do some cooking demos. He’s a presidential chef, a veteran and a PTSD survivor. Cindy Ayers Elliott tours the nation doing talks about farming. At one point, she was working on Wall Street and gave it up; she’s got a great story.”
The festival will also include talks on mental health, group yoga sessions and drumming, said Willis.
The Homestead Education Center of Starkville will host a kids’ activity related to healthy food.
“I think it’s really great when you see initiative that comes out of any rural community around health,” said Alison Buehler of The Homestead Center. “If you see homegrown solutions to what is a statewide problem, that’s something we all can get behind.”
Willis has been “a struggling vegetarian” for the past four years. She has been consistently vegetarian for about a year and has been vegan since February 2019 “because of the wonders of how that’s helped my health and my mother’s health. This is a no brainer.”
Weight loss, improved mental clarity and lower glucose numbers in the case of her mother are a few of the benefits Willis cites since making diet changes.
“My mom was getting ready to be on the insulin track for her diabetes,” she said. “We have now left that totally aside. Now she controls it with pills and her diet is under control. We are hoping to eventually eradicate the pills altogether.”
Willis, who moved to Mississippi about three years ago from Illinois, has been farming for a year in Crawford, where she has extensive family roots. She grows saffron, Canadian goldenrod and collard greens, among other crops. With the festival, she hopes to bring more attention to the connection between diet and health.
“We understand Mississippi is often No. 1 in poverty, obesity and preventable diseases,” she remarked. “As an adult you almost have to get sick in order to change some of your habits.” Her hope is to reach children with the message of eating better before unhealthy habits are ingrained.
“We want to take our babies back and teach them about food early,” she said.
Festival proceeds will go toward a KidzCafe program, where children learn the importance of land, soil and farming practices. Fruits and vegetables they grow are harvested for CSA delivery or used to prepare meals for community members with preventable diseases.
“We know a big part of health is having access to the right type of food, the real food,” said Elliott of Jackson, a former investment banker in New York and CEO of Delta Enterprises. The native Mississippian returned to her home state after 9/11.
“I came back to start planting seeds for a new type of life,” she told The Dispatch. “I gave up my high heels for work boots, and I’ve never looked back. For me, it was all about what I could do to help make a difference in my back yard, and my back yard is my state. I’m excited to participate (in the festival), to be a part of any activity that talks about the health of our community.”
For more information about the festival in Crawford, email Willis (who also goes by Eye of Ra), at [email protected], or call 662-242-8906.