Hay rides, pumpkin patches, corn mazes and U-pick berry farms…what an idyllic way to spend a day or two off the beaten path and away from the hustle and bustle of traditional tourist attractions. With more and more farms and ranches opening their doors, gates and pastures to the public, agritourism is becoming much more than just a buzz word. Local goods, organic produce and heirloom seeds are now a part of our everyday shopping habits and emerging food choices. And many vacationers want to know more about how and where that food is produced.

Experience Our Agriculture Heritage

Experiencing our nation’s agricultural heritage up close and personal through agritourism has become a celebration of America’s rural communities while introducing farm life to a new generation. In addition to the recreational and educational benefits for visitors, a growing agritourism business across the country helps farmers, ranchers and their families thrive and keep their businesses alive for future generations. From California to Vermont, farmers are using agritourism as an economic development tool in their communities. Agritourism is blossoming on Virginia farms and vineyards

What exactly is agritourism? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) describes agritourism as a style of vacation that takes place on a farm or ranch and usually involves visitors participating in farm or ranch tasks during their visit. These specialized agritourism destinations usually offer hands-on activities, sell produce or gifts and are open to the public at least some parts of the year. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, more than 23,000 farms received income from agritourism that totaled more than $566 million.

Related: Must-Visit North Carolina Agritourism Experiences

Illinois’ Agritourism Adventures

The 9 best Iowa Agritourism Experiences

Indiana Farms for Agritourism Opportunities

How Small Farms are Thriving From Agritourism

Mitchell Farms in Collins, Miss., is one example of how a family farm is building a thriving business from the growing interest in agritourism. With an abundance of diverse activities to choose from year-round, visitors young and old can pick vegetables, tour historic farm buildings, visit the pumpkin patch and explore acres of peanuts. Mitchell Farms also hosts the annual Mississippi Peanut Festival the first Saturday of October. The property, like other agritourism sites around the country, is also an ideal venue for weddings, reunions, corporate retreats and other group events.

As visitors demand more information about agritourism destinations, locales are working to accommodate those needs and inform the public about their travel options. Many states have dedicated websites or other online information to direct visitors to points of interest. Recently, Mississippi took that effort one step further with highway signage for its AgriTourism Trail, a project of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division. Mitchell Farms received the first of 30 signs, which will identify AgriTourism Trail sites around the state and help visitors home in on just the right destination for old-fashioned fun down on the farm.

According to the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, agritourism is the fasting growing sector of agriculture in the state. Mississippi’s AgriTourism Trail showcases the state’s agriculture attractions and guides visitors to a variety of locations in every region of the state. Sites on the trail include farms, historic plantations, old country stores, pottery studios, museums and other locations that showcase Mississippi’s ever-evolving agricultural heritage. Visitors can build itineraries from more than 35 featured sites via the state’s official tourism website, www.visitmississippi.org. Select from the Bamboo Emu Farm in Meridian, Catfish Capital Museum in Belzoni, Biloxi Shrimping Tours on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Old South Winery in Natchez, Wise Farms Corn Maze in Pontotoc or hay rides, farmers’ markets, U-pick farms and more statewide.

Where cotton was once king, now these and other industries and attractions are springing up to welcome visitors and extend Mississippi’s warm Southern hospitality. These attractions allow visitors a chance to delve into life on the farm and indulge themselves in a culture that is still alive today.