Her crowning glory

Pageant: Miss Farm Bureau aims to be an ambassador for rural life in the Miss Maryland Agriculture Contest on Aug. 26.

August 10, 2005|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

In Howard County, it's not the acres, it's the attitude that makes a Miss Farm Bureau.

Rebecca Hamilton, who has a garden, 10 beef cattle, sheep, swine, goats and chickens on 5 acres in Lisbon, was chosen over six other competitors this week for the title. She will represent the county at the Miss Maryland Agriculture Contest at the state fair on Aug. 26.

She plans to let people know that while the types of farms in the county are changing, farming remains an important part of the economy and landscape.

"[Farming] has gotten us so far, there is no way we can turn our back on it now," she said.

By appealing to young women who are interested in animals and crops, regardless of whether they live on a quarter-acre or 140 acres, the Howard County contest continues to draw a solid group of competitors.

Although farms throughout the county are giving way to development as land prices skyrocket, Howard's field of seven contestants exceeded that of most other Maryland counties, which often draw one, two or three participants.

Two of the women who competed Sunday live on larger farms. However, two raise animals on 10 or fewer acres and two do not consider their homes farms, participating in other 4-H activities such as horse contests and arts.

The Howard County Farm Bureau Women offer a $300 scholarship to the winner, and the other contestants receive smaller prizes. But, that is not the main motivation, said Annette Fleishell, co-chair of the Howard contest committee.

"They do it because it is something they want to do," she said. "They have done leadership [activities], public speaking. That is the kind of girls they are."

Hamilton, a junior at Glenelg High School, is a member of the student government association and the model United Nations team. She belongs to two 4-H clubs and is on the Maryland State B Livestock Judging team. She also helps children learn about livestock as a 4-H junior leader.

She said she is excited about handing out ribbons to winners at the Howard fair this week. She is also looking forward to attending the Farm Bureau convention and the State Fair in her new role.

"I'm so happy. I'll get to travel so many places and meet new people," she said.

Hamilton's win is part of a six-decade tradition of naming a young agriculture spokeswoman at the Howard fair.

The contest has always been about poise and knowledge of agriculture, which are demonstrated during an interview with the judges, a speech and an extemporaneous question asked in front of an audience.

Formerly, the winners were called farm queens, but three years ago the Maryland State Fair and the Maryland Farm Bureau started searching for ways to update the traditional contest.

Leaders from the two groups made business suits the dress code for the state contest, did away with tiaras and changed the name to Miss Farm Bureau in an effort to avoid comparisons to a beauty contest and to attract more competitors.

But in Howard County, tradition still drives the contest.

The seven women, all first-time contestants, voted to compete in formal gowns. The women's committee gave the winner a tiara. And the name "farm queen" continued to slip off the tongues of spectators, contestants and the masters of ceremonies.

Trappings like the crown and the sash "just draw in the public a lot easier," said Emma Bullock, the 2004 Miss Howard County Farm Bureau. Small children, in particular, are intrigued by the tiara and ask questions, she said.

"It is carrying on a legacy and pride," said Rhonda Winkler of Lisbon, who was the 1988 farm queen. It is about "standing up for what you believe in, and standing up for the family farmer who works 365 days a year."

Winkler, who was Rhonda Patrick when she won her crown, followed her three sisters who were farm queens in 1977, 1980 and 1984. Her niece won in 1996. Winkler attended this year's contest with about a dozen former farm queens to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the fair.

Young women also interact with Miss Farm Bureau at 4-H meetings and animal shows.

They see women like Emma Bullock and her sister, Jamie, who was county and state farm queen in 2000. They grew up on an acre in Ellicott City.

"It has been an amazing year," Emma Bullock told the contestants. "Truly cherish this year. You will love it and it will go by so fast."

The Howard County Fair, off Route 144 in West Friendship, is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily through Saturday. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for those ages 62 and older and free for children younger than 10. Parking is free. Information: 410-442-1022, or www. howardcountyfair.com.

The Contestants

Vying for 2005 Miss Howard County Farm Bureau were:

* Rebecca Hamilton: Miss Howard County Farm Bureau; raises beef cattle, sheep, swine, goats and chickens on 5 acres in Lisbon.

* Katherine Robinson: First runner up; raises swine, rabbits, chickens, capons, horses, sheep and bees on a farm in Highland. She is a senior at River Hill High School.

* Julie Roby: Second runner up; cares for five horses on her family's 141-acre farm in Ellicott City. She is a senior at River Hill High School.

* Courtney Alexander: Raises beef cattle and pigs on 3 acres in Mount Airy and exhibits baking projects. She is a senior at South Carroll High School.

* Alexandra Barnard: Spends many hours each week caring her horse, which she boards farm. She lives in Ellicott Cityis a senior at Wilde Lake High School.

* Meredith Evans: A junior leader in the Patapsco Valley 4-H Club who enjoys design, painting, crafting and scrapbooking. She an Ellicott City resident and senior at Mount Hebron High School.

*Brooke Hartner: Raises lambs, hogs, a steer and a flock of breeding sheep on 10 acres Woodbine. She is a senior at Mount de Sales Academy.

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