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Discover Mississippi: Mississippi...

Discover Mississippi: Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum

By: Laura Lee Leathers - March 5, 2024

  • Sharing the story of agriculture through education and family fun events

I grew up on a small farm in Central Illinois where my father invested in a few polled Hereford cows. They loved to roam into another neighbor’s pasture. The grass always seemed greener on the other side of the fence—that I had to repair.

Gardening and canning, raising one hundred chickens every summer, and mushroom hunting were only a few of my experiences on the farm. I played  in the old three-story barn, built by my ancestors. It held old machinery, tools, and a bin for corn. But the best part was climbing the ladder to the hay loft. I loved the smell of the alfalfa hay (ah-choo!).

There were many benefits of growing up on the farm, but not everyone had that kind of experience. Thankfully, there are places where people can go to learn and experience the culture of farm life, and one of those places is located in the heart of Mississippi’s capital city. 

(Photo from MS Ag Museum)

A Few Acres of Land

One man’s vision saw the need and value of having a place for people to learn more about agriculture. Back in 1969, Jim Buck Ross, then the Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner (from 1968 to 1995), began collecting artifacts for a museum. Commissioner Ross connected with individuals across the state to create what would become known as the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum. In 1978, the city of Jackson donated 39 acres at Lakeland Drive and Interstate 55.

The initial funding, $1.5 million, was appropriated through the state Legislature for the museum building. The private sector provided another $1.5 million through the Agriculture and Forestry Museum Foundation, used to construct what is now known as “Small Town, Mississippi.” The exhibit includes a blacksmith shop, cotton and grist mills, and the general store (built in Camden in 1905).

Today, you can visit the Heritage Center Gallery. The exhibits consist of three model railroad layouts from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Central Mississippi Model Railroaders Association and the Red Caboose Crew volunteers are responsible for the exhibit.

The five thousand square foot National Agricultural Aviation Museum features actual planes that flew over Southern farms and plantations. There is an informative video and photographs. Justin Nipper, Marketing and Event Specialist for the Museum, stated the exhibit “has recently been with new colorful and beautiful lighting. If you stay long enough in the exhibit hall, you will experience the lighting from morning to night.”

A Blaze of Destruction

Late in the afternoon of November 13, 2014, a disastrous fire broke out at the MS AG Museum. When the thick, black smoke had cleared, the fire consumed three buildings: a barn, a veterinarian clinic, and a maintenance shop.

The State Fire Marshal’s report ruled it an accidental fire. The AG Museum was closed for several weeks for clean-up. The work of rebuilding and funding for the estimated $2.5 million in damage would take time.

The money was provided through private donations, state Legislature, and businesses. According to an article in Farm Flavor, fundraisers were held, including sponsored by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Several events were held, including the Mississippi Forestry Association’s Eat in the Street, and a Raising the Barn benefit concert were held to raise necessary funds for rebuilding. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Built to Amaze! presented Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith a golden hard hat and a donation to the rebuilding efforts.

“The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum is one of our state’s hidden jewels,” says Cindy Hyde-Smith, former Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce (2012-2018). “One of my goals while serving as Commissioner was to enhance the museum, making this unique attraction a crown jewel.”

After the fire, Hyde-Smith said, “While a part of history was lost during the fire, we have not lost our determination and commitment to making upgrades and improvements so that our visitors have a memorable experience when they visit our grounds. I can assure you that we will not only rebuild; we will rebuild even bigger and better.”

Celebrating 40 Years

The reconstruction did happen. On September 9, 2023, the MS Agriculture and Forestry Museum celebrated its 40th birthday. The big day was filled with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Andy Gipson, current Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, and included special guests and visitors.

Also, that week, restoration of the church building on the grounds of the Museum was completed. The church is approximately 130 years old and is beautiful inside and out. It was built in 1897 and is a part of the Small-Town Mississippi exhibit. 

The Children’s Barnyard is home to various farm animals, which the children naturally gravitate to.

Giggles and sometimes screams can be heard when the pigs come to the gate and oink. There are questions and some hesitation as the children watch the animals, many for the first time. 

Another favorite for children and adults is the exhibit barn. The children love getting on the tractors and pretending to drive on the farm. Adults of all ages enjoy looking at the various makes and models of farm equipment. Sometimes, you can listen in on some storytelling.

The General Store provides old-fashioned candy and toys. There are also  various made-in-Mississippi food products. It is a fun spot for everyone.

Nature Trail, Agricultural and Display Gardens

Plans and planting are well underway for the gardens. Volunteers from garden clubs, Keep Mississippi Beautiful, along with the Museum staff have been hard at work. The Agricultural Garden provides teachable topics, such as pollination or crop rotation.

The Victory Garden contains seasonal crops and even a worm dig compost station. It is located behind the Fortenberry-Parkman Farmstead. Most of the original buildings, dating back to 1860, came from Jefferson Davis County. The garden area will soon be a location for weddings.

Stop by The Rose Garden and behold the beauty of over 60 rose specimens—hybrid teas to climbers. Another garden of interest is The Doctor’s Office Herb Garden, which has medicinal herbs and perennials. The Nature Trail allows visitors to stroll leisurely, experience the sights and sounds, and see how the environment and agriculture bond.

Spring Farm Days, March 7 through 9

Make plans to attend the Spring Farm Days, March 7 through 9. The three-day event has family fun activities, including train and hayrides. There is a carousel for children (kindergarten and under).

Justin Nipper shared there will be something new at the event this year. The theme will be “In the Garden, Greet Spring in the Garden.” Children will be encouraged to take home a planting kit that contains soil, seeds, and an egg crate. Instructions are provided, and the recipients are encouraged to track and share their progress.

The Mississippi Egg Marketing Board will provide cooking demonstrations and educational materials. You can learn about Farmstead life and gardening, stroll through the nature trail, and there will be plenty of places for photos.

Visit the website for the event flier and reservation form for groups. The cost is $8 for general admission (ages three and up) and $1 for individual rides.

Easter at the MS AG Museum

The annual Easter at the MS AG Museum will be held March 30th, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is jam-packed with things to do throughout the day. “The event is not the typical Easter egg hunt,” explains Justin. “Instead, it is a scavenger hunt. We call it ‘Hop Along the Bunny Trail.’ Participants are encouraged to visit stations and go at their own pace.”

Children ages two to 17 are encouraged to bring a basket so they can collect candy and toy-filled eggs. Other activities include photos with the Easter Bunny, games, and dying eggs. The MS Beef Council will provide complimentary hotdogs.

Events for the Year

“Night on the Town,” an adult-only event, is scheduled for May 4th. A big screen is set up for a movie. There will also be a live band, food from The Tasty Side of Agriculture, yard games, and a stroll through Small Town, Mississippi. This event is for adults 21 and older. Tickets will be available in April.

The largest single-day event is the Pickle Fest, held June 8th, with an attendance of almost 4000 people. There will be over 90 vendors, a pickle-eating contest, and more. See the website for applications if you are a food or craft vendor or performer.

Additional events for 2024:

  • September 21– 2024 MS Science Fest
  • October – Pumpkin Adventure
  • November 5-9 – Harvest Fest
  • December 12-13 – Homestead for the Holidays

The following buildings are available for renting for various events: A Multipurpose Building, The Sparkman Auditorium, the Forestry Auditorium, the Education Center, the Masonic Lodge, a Small Pavilion, and the Ethnic Heritage Center.

Something is always happening on the farm, and the work is never done. Stay current through the website and Facebook.

To Go

The Mississippi AG Museum
1150 Lakeland Drive
Jackson, MS 39216
Tel: 601-432-4500.

It is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

General admission is $6 for adults; $5 for ages 3-17, military personnel, and seniors

About the Author(s)
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Laura Lee Leathers

Laura Lee Leathers is a writer and speaker. Imagine Lois Lane, over sixty-five, and living on a farm. Her metropolis is the area of freelance writing. Her primary love interest is the Word of God. She digs for information, interviews fascinating people, offers a cup of biblical hospitalit-tea, encourages, and helps others with the ‘how-to’s’ of life.
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