By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Rural Mississippi had fewer agricultural jobs compared to the manufacturing sector beginning in 1965 and has continued to have fewer farming jobs as part of the overall state economy.
With Facebook and video games and other distractions, more young people have a growing distance between food they eat and the land it where it grows.
Lee County Agri-Center Director Torrey Mitchell has plans this fall to expose elementary school students to learn more about agriculture. Before leaving to visit area schools Tuesday to recruit for field trips, Mitchell surveyed growth of his plans, cotton and pumpkin crops planted on Agri-Center property.
On the job for about five months, Mitchell has followed the agri-tourism model that turns rural areas into fun experiences for young people who haven’t grown up on farms like many Mississippians did generations ago.
“I think a lot of people need to be reminded where eggs and milk come from,” Mitchell said. “We want to expose them to agriculture.”
From October to November, Mitchell plans for 6,000 to 8,000 elementary school students from 16 nearby counties to visit the Lee County Agri-Center, each student paying $8 for the field trip experience titled “So God made a Farmer,” play off the popular Paul Harvey story by the same name.
The experience will bring students to check crops, gather eggs and other farming activities, along with a petting zoo, a corn crib and a general store.
The field trip experience for students will add to the number of people who visit the facility and increase revenue, two goals for the property set by the Lee County Board of Supervisors.
Mitchell expects teachers and schools to buy into their students paying to experience what he can provide on the field trip, based on the experience of a hired consultant, Kristi Harris, who operates Blackjack Ridge, a 375-acre cattle ranch in the southern part of the state.
For a facility that has struggled to find stable leadership in recent years, Mitchell has impressed supervisors and others who spend time at the facility. He gave an update at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting to discuss the field trips, horse shows, gospel concerts and other events planned for the facility.
“In the past 11 minutes I’ve seen more energy come out of the Agri-Center than I have in the last five years, said District 3 Supervisor Darrell Rankin.