Finding fall fun at a pumpkin patch or corn maze may be easier this year as new signs point the way to Mississippi’s agritourism operations.

Agritourism businesses combine agriculture and tourism to offer fun to visitors and additional revenue to the family farm.

“Agritourism operations in Mississippi include farm tours, bird-watching events, guided hunts, u-pick fruit and vegetable farms, equine activities, hay rides and more,” said Stanley Wise, Mississippi State University Extension Service director in Union County and agritourism specialist. “When the new Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Agritourism Sign Program is fully implemented, I believe it will be one of the greatest assets to the development of the industry in our state.”

The brown agritourism signs are similar to the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s state parks and historical and cultural signs.

“They will attract tourists off the major highways into our rural communities, providing economic stimulus for the area,” Wise said. “Farms will become destinations for travelers, and the signs will make rural businesses easier to find.”

The Mississippi Agritourism Association has 35 member farms, but Wise said the actual number of farms open to the public is much higher. The organization began in 2005 with 10 members and has seen a 200 percent increase in seven years.

“Based on the number of calls I receive each year about people wanting to add some type of agritourism enterprise to their farm, I’d say business is booming.”

One such enterprise is BlueJack Ridge Kids Ranch near Poplarville, a Western-themed farm and ranch experience designed for children ages 3 to 12.

“We bought this property that had an existing saloon, house and outbuildings,” said Darrin Harris, who operates the business with his wife, Kristi. “We said, ‘What can we do with 400 acres and a Western town?’ We fenced the pastures and created a cattle operation, and when we decided to do a ranch event open to the public, we added a horse barn, arena, petting barn and concession stand to provide a complete experience for our guests.”

BlueJack Ridge Kids Ranch is in Pearl River County and draws visitors from south Louisiana, Alabama and all over Mississippi. Now in its fifth season, the ranch is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays in October only. Their family-friendly operation is alcohol-free and offers “scare-free,” seasonal outdoor fun suited to younger crowds.

“Each year we have a theme, and this year it’s all about the usefulness and history of horses,” Harris said. “In years past, we’ve covered everything from Mississippi’s Native American heritage to where our food comes from.”

The Harrises schedule field trips during the week in their open season and special events year-round, such as the Trail Boss Challenge 5K run set for Nov. 3.

“We have an educational component to all we do and we try to be well-organized, which has resulted in a lot of repeat business, especially with field trips,” he said. “I think with the price of gas and the economy, people want to do things closer to home instead of driving several hours.”

Wise said agritourism benefits farmers and landowners by adding a newsource of income to the farm. “An agritourism enterprise has less weather risk and no commodity marketprice fluctuations. It’s challenging to get started, and most farmers have many new skills to learn, such as marketing and sales, but it can be quite rewarding in terms of profit and personal satisfaction.”

The Mississippi Agritourism Association provides information about its members at http://mississippiagritourism.org. The MSU Natural Resources Enterprises website offers information for landowners at http://www.naturalresources.msstate.edu.

More information about BlueJack Ridge Kids Ranch is available at http://www.bluejackridge.com.