Crowns and gowns back for Maryland farm queen

Bureau directors decide to return to tradition

April 16, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Farm Bureau wants to bring royalty back to county fairs.

After renaming the six-decade-old competition last year to the Agricultural Ambassador Contest and giving up crowns and formal gowns in favor of businesslike blazers, the farm bureau's board of directors decided Tuesday to return to the tradition.

The blazers are out. The tiaras are back. The winners will again be named farm queen.

"Last year, we made a change, we tried it out," said state bureau President Earl Hance. "A lot of the members didn't particularly care for it.

"They felt the girls did not have as much of a presence without the crown," he said.

The Maryland State Fair's leaders will now have to decide if they want to embrace the latest changes or move in a different direction, cutting their long-standing ties with the Farm Bureau's contest. Some state fair board members favor ending their association with the contest, said F. Grove Miller Jr., chairman of the state fair board of directors.

"A lot of us feel that it's a step backward as far as the contest goes," he told the Associated Press. "We made some changes last year that we felt were a step in the right direction. I guess they didn't turn out that way."

Clarksville resident Anna Marie Schlicht, 17, Howard County's reigning agriculture ambassador, said she would rather have the title farm queen.

"When I was younger, I wanted to be a farm queen," she said, adding that recent controversy over titles and tiaras has eclipsed talk of animal husbandry and farm economics. She said more girls will participate if they get to wear gowns.

The contest, which seeks an agriculture spokeswoman among Farm Bureau members from ages 16 to 19, judges the contestants on their poise, public-speaking skills and knowledge of farming.

The winners from each county advance to compete at the state contest, held each year at the state fair in Timonium. Last year, the state farm queen received a $6,500 college scholarship and four runners-up were awarded $1,000 scholarships.

The state bureau's women's committee worked with the state fair for two years to update the contest, said Beverly Burton, the women's committee chairwoman. They believed an ambassador "is something the public can relate to and that is more current with the times," she said. The changes could have opened contests to young men.

Contestants aren't judged on appearance, she said, so her committee tried to move away from the beauty-related aspects.

Carolyn Lechlider, who leads the Montgomery County Farm Bureau Women's Committee and oversees the farm queen contest there, said, "It is sad that we have to go back on something that I think was certainly progress."

Lechlider, of Laytonsville, said with society changing, the farm queen contest needs to keep up. Most of all, she said, she would like to see consistency from the Farm Bureau.

"The young women are the ones actually being penalized for their flip-flop back and forth," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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