Written by Abbie Walker | Photographed by Joe Ellis
“I’ve been involved in agriculture most of my life,” says Aaron Rodgers, Executive Director of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in LeFleur East.
“My dad has always been in the wine grape growing business, and my mother has always been in education, so an Ag Museum was a fairly serendipitous fit.”
Rodgers, 38, also spent time in Senegal, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer. “I was an ag extension agent with projects ranging from improving growing techniques for corn, millet and sorghum production, to working with women farmers on gardening and nutrition, to hosting medical clinics, to teaching basic science classes,” he says.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in environmental and global studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, California-native Rodgers moved to Mississippi to earn his master’s in agricultural economics from Mississippi State University.
He then helped with market development of agriculture and commerce for the state as Agribusiness Programs Coordinator. When the position at the Ag Museum opened up, Rodgers figured it was the perfect way to combine his love of agriculture and education.
“One of my favorite things about this museum is how interdisciplinary it is,” he says. “I love being able to educate people from all over the world on the importance of agriculture.”
From teaching third graders about seed propagation to discussing agricultural aviation with Argentinian pilots, Rodgers gets to engage visitors in discussions about agriculture every day.
“With our exhibits, we are able to explain the importance of a lot of these industries and how they contribute to the overall picture of human progress,” says Rodgers, “And in a lot of ways, we are a rural history museum.”
Rodgers adds that he likes how the museum grounds offer something for everyone.
“My favorite spot is actually a little gazebo by the rose garden. I frequently eat lunch surrounded by bees harvesting the rose pollen, kids enjoying walking into the General Store in Small Town, grandparents reminiscing about the farmstead, or couples walking into the main building to reserve a spot for their wedding.”
Soaring to New Heights: National Agricultural Aviation Museum Renovation
Since a 2014 fire affected multiple parts of the grounds, the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum has been active in renovating many of their buildings, including the sawmill, cotton gin, blacksmith shop and other exhibits. But the most exciting project is the renovation of the National Agricultural Aviation Museum, located inside the Ag Museum.
“It’s a two-phase process,” says Rodgers.
The first phase, which consists of redoing flooring, backdrops and reorienting the planes in the museum space, is almost complete. Rodgers says that after some more planning, they will begin the next phase of renovating the auditorium, restructuring the exhibit’s historical narrative, as well as redesigning the National Agricultural Aviation Hall of Fame.
The museum began planning the renovation in 2016, and Rodgers says the goal is to complete it by the end of summer 2019. The newly-designed museum will come in time for the 100-year anniversary of agricultural aviation in 2021.
“This will be something we can be proud of for another 40 years,” says Rodgers.
The museum space, designed by CDFL, will include a flight simulator, as well as platforms that allow visitors to examine planes from multiple angles.
Rodgers says the exhibit will emphasize the huge impact Mississippi has had on agricultural aviation: “It’s something we as Mississippians should be proud of.”
The Ag Museum will also host its first traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian, called “Waterways,” in early December.
The mission of the Museum is to create an environment that communicates the value of past and present Mississippi agricultural lifestyles, relationships and practices and their relevance to the future of all people.
The museum and grounds is open Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors (over 60), military and children 3-18. Children under 3 enter for free.