An antique carousel, live catfish and livestock, interactive exhibits, real crop dusting planes, a life-sized 1920s Mississippi town – if you haven’t been to the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum lately, it’s time to stop in for a visit. New exhibits and updated features make this 40-acre museum, which houses the National Agricultural Aviation Museum, a must-see during a trip to Jackson.
An Ever-Evolving Experience
With the enthusiastic support of Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Agriculture and Forestry Museum’s vibrant, optimistic leadership is ushering in a new chapter at the already popular attraction, which first opened in 1983. Several projects have been completed in the past few years, and a detailed master plan ensures future visitors will always return to find new or improved exhibits.
“There are just so many wonderful things going on,” says Karyn Inzinna Thornhill, museum foundation board president. “There are some really wonderful opportunities to make enhancements that will be more relevant to all of the participants and viewers. It’s not just an ag facility; it’s a museum that can stand on its own nationally and internationally.”
With the help of the Farm Families of Mississippi, a new exhibit opened in the museum’s Heritage Center in June 2013. It features information about Mississippi’s farmers, farmland, forestry, crops, livestock, poultry and catfish. There’s a kiosk where kids can play a game called “My American Farm” as well as interactive modules with information and educational videos about Mississippi agriculture.
Another update to the Heritage Center is the catfish exhibit, which is sponsored by The Catfish Institute. Video screens tell the story of farm-raised catfish in addition to sharing recipes and nutrition information. A tank filled with live catfish allows people to see them up close.
North American Midway Entertainment recently donated materials and labor to restore a 1930s-era carousel that has been housed in the museum since 1988.
“It’s one of five carousels in the state that is recognized by the National Carousel Association,” says Lise Foy, the museum’s executive director.
In September 2014, the upgrades to the Ag and Forestry Museum’s nature trail and livestock exhibits were unveiled, thanks to a grant from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
“The purpose of this project is to improve visitors’ perception and knowledge about the importance of natural resources and forest products to the agriculture industry,” Foy says.
An ongoing project to address erosion problems that occur along two streams on the museum grounds is funded by the USDA National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“We’re also in the middle of a project with NRCS to create a conservation trail on our campus that highlights different best practices recommended to farmers,” Foy says.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History awarded the museum with a grant to restore the Fortenberry-Parkman Farmstead exhibit, a fully intact farm with original buildings dating back to 1860. The restoration will be complete in December 2016.
These updates all serve to cultivate and preserve a love and appreciation for agriculture, history, and learning for people of all ages.
“It provides such a wonderful vehicle for storytelling, and there’s such an opportunity to say ‘I remember when,’” Thornhill says. “It’s a generational thing.”
With upgrades and new exhibits come new opportunities to support the museum.
“We have a newly launched volunteer program, and we are actively seeking help,” Foy says. “We need everything from docents to gardeners to volunteers for our events.”
Financial support is also needed to fund future improvements and additions.
“It’s a great time to get involved,” Thornhill says. “You’re wanted, needed, valuable and welcome. People seem to be very nostalgic about the museum and want to see it be its best. It’s an exciting time to be a part of that.”
Lefleur Museum District
The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum has recently partnered with the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, the Mississippi Children’s Museum and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science to create the LeFleur Museum District, which offers discounted entry prices and special joint events.
Visitors can purchase one ticket to visit all four museums, saving 25 percent compared to what it would cost to visit each museum individually.
“Among the four museums, we have something for everybody, and it gives us a unified voice to market our destination to tourists,” Foy says. “There’s a common thread between all four museums – people, stories and Mississippi culture.”