Astrophysicist and author Carl Sagan once said, “You have to understand the past to know the present.” That same idea guides the work of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson. Spread out over 40 acres, the museum campus provides a glimpse into Mississippi’s agricultural past through a historic farmstead, national agriculture aviation museum, nature trail, gardens and even a general store where you can play a game of checkers on the porch just like your great-grandpa did.
“We provide a space for multiple generations to see the past, the present and the future of agriculture and forestry that is specific to Mississippi,” says Aaron Rodgers, the museum’s executive director. “We do this in a way that hopefully excites the imagination and helps people to think about the importance of these fields, and to understand how the history lessons of the work in these fields can be attributed to success today in agriculture and forestry.”
For example, the farmstead – a designated Mississippi Landmark – is a fully intact farm, representative of farm life from 1860 to 1960. Except for the chicken house, all the buildings were preserved and restored to their 1920s appearance. Each building is in its original location in relation to other structures on the farm, which “helps visitors conceptualize what people needed to live and make sure food was on the table and a roof was over their heads,” Rodgers says.
The 1920s are also represented in “Small Town Mississippi,” an impressive exhibit depicting a crossroads town.
“The 1920s represent a strong period in Mississippi’s economy,” Rodgers says.
New technologies such as the internal combustion engine enabled farmers and foresters to increase production, and improved roads and transportation helped producers sell to larger markets like Memphis and New Orleans. Typical small-town businesses included a filling station, cotton gin, sawmill, gristmill, church, schoolhouse, doctor’s office and, of course, the general store.
“Everyone loves the general store,” Rodgers says.
The store’s merchandise – ranging from shaving mugs to cheese wheel cutters – connects museum artifacts to real life.
“Footwarmers are a great example of this,” he says. “You will hear an older visitor tell a child, ‘Great-grandpa had one, and he swore by it.’ These conversations about the artifacts make history real for a younger generation.”
The museum’s youngest visitors especially love the model train layouts, which depict the contribution of railroads to the development of agriculture and commerce. Looking to the sky, visitors can learn about the history of agriculture aviation, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2021. There are also other expansions in the works. For example, a children’s barn was recently completed this year. The farm’s animals are once again available for children to pet and feed. Unfortunately, the museum’s original barn and two large storage shops were destroyed in a 2014 fire. A new exhibit barn and a maintenance shop have been rebuilt, displaying 10 antique tractors and 15 pieces of historical farm equipment.
About 120,000 people visit the museum each year, whether as solo guests, tour groups or attendees at one of the annual events, such as Harvest Fest or Homestead for the Holidays.
Rodgers likes to converse with as many visitors as he can and often reminds folks that although the basic necessities of life – food, water, shelter and security – have remained largely the same throughout human history, advances in agricultural and forestry production have made the job of feeding and sheltering the world much easier.
While reflecting on the past, museum staff and state ag leaders look forward to the future. “We’re pushing ourselves to develop a facility that everyone in Mississippi can be proud of,” Rodgers says, “A place that shows what Mississippians have done for agriculture and forestry for the United States and the world.”
Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum
1150 Lakeland Drive, Jackson MS
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays and on major holidays
General admission $5 for adults; $4 for seniors, military and children ages 3-18. Contact the museum for group rates and to plan your visit.