ORGANIZERS PUT A NEW NAME — The glamour was back at the Howard County Fair this year as three young women wore formal gowns and high-heeled shoes into the show ring to compete to be the county's spokeswoman for agriculture.
Organizers put a new name -- the Miss Howard County Farm Bureau Contest -- on a competition that looked a lot like the Farm Queen contest that was held for six decades until last summer. Emma Bullock of Ellicott City won the competition yesterday, which welcomed back dressy gowns after the women wore less formal dresses last year.
Bullock only briefly got to wear a tiara; farm queens in the past wore one throughout their reign. And she will not get the Farm Queen title, which seems to be gone for good. But those details didn't seem to matter to Bullock, who beamed as she was handed a bouquet and a silver platter. "The job is still the same," she said.
The three contestants and many fans looked past the contest's recent identity crisis and focused on its message.
"So many people, especially here in Howard County, don't have a deep appreciation of agriculture like I do," Bullock said. "But so many traditions in Howard County have to do with agriculture."
As in previous contests, this year's competitors interviewed with judges, gave a speech before hundreds of spectators and answered questions. They were judged on their poise, knowledge and communication skills.
But last year, state-level organizers thought it was time for some changes.
The state Farm Bureau and state fair officials set new guidelines for last year's statewide contest. They chose the name Agricultural Ambassador and encouraged county contests to match their competition by doing away with crowns and gowns.
Organizers said they wanted the contest to let go of aspects that might suggest a beauty contest and reflect modern ideas. They also wanted to attract more contestants and thought that eventually an ambassador contest could be open to young men.
This spring, the state Farm Bureau rethought that decision, saying it missed the attention-getting power of the tiara and dresses. It clashed with the state fair over the changes, and the compromise was to name the contest Miss Maryland Agriculture and continue to forgo tiaras.
The state contest likely will call for business attire, but Howard County's contestants decided to bring back formalwear.
"It's good we brought back part of the tradition," Bullock said.
In Howard, there also was some nostalgia for the Farm Queen name -- it appeared in the fair schedule and rolled off the tongue of fairgoers.
"Everybody knows it as the Farm Queen, and they always will," said Megan Bondhus, 17, a contestant from Columbia. She's active in her 4-H horse club and does 4-H projects with rabbits, small pets, arts, photography and other areas. She will attend Howard Community College in the fall.
"If you know what it's about and really listen to the speeches, you know it's not a beauty pageant," she said.
Lyndsay Glasscock, 18, of Sykesville was the third contestant. She said the tiara was nice for little girls to dream about. But, she said, "I think [the contest] is good now."
Glasscock will attend James Madison University this fall to study business marketing. She raises sheep and swine on her grandfather's Glenelg farm and in previous years leased dairy cattle to show at the fair.
She also does crafts, gardening and photography projects.
All three contestants received a cash award and a gift from the county Farm Bureau and its women's committee.
They will spend the rest of the fair handing out ribbons and attending events such as the livestock show, and they will ride on a float in a parade Friday night.
Bullock also was given a $300 college scholarship and a tiara-shaped pin. In addition to attending county Farm Bureau events throughout the year, she will compete in the state contest at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium this month.
She has received some advice from her sister, Jamie Bullock, who won the Howard and state Farm Queen titles in 2000. Jamie Bullock said it is important for contestants to act naturally and "show the judges you are a real person."
And, she said, the need to speak eloquently about agriculture remains constant, regardless of the dress code or the name.
"It is still important to this area," she said about agriculture, "and it will be, crown or not."