Brooke Hartner remembers how thrilled she was as a young girl when a family friend who had been named Howard County Farm Queen let her try on the ceremonial sash and crown.
"I was always so excited about [the contest] and looked up to them," Hartner said.
The crown has been retired and the sash now reads "Miss Howard County Farm Bureau" - changes made over the past two years to mirror the statewide contest - but Hartner, now 17, was no less happy to be named the winner of the annual contest to find a knowledgeable, poised and articulate spokeswoman for agriculture.
"I was really surprised," she said. "At first, it didn't even hit me."
Six contestants, ages 16 through 18, submitted applications and were interviewed by a panel of judges. Each gave a speech and answered a question on the spot Sunday afternoon in the show ring at the Howard County Fair, which runs through Saturday.
As the winner, Hartner will receive a $300 scholarship and go on to compete in the Miss Maryland Agriculture contest, which concludes at the Maryland State Fair on Aug. 25.
Howard County's contest continues to have a strong turnout of contestants, thanks to active recruiting by the Howard County Farm Bureau Women and word of mouth from previous participants, said Annette Fleishell, the contest chairwoman.
Fleishell said even though the State Fair and the Maryland Farm Bureau have agreed on changes to modernize the contest, local contestants have voted to keep some traditional elements - including formal dresses - for the public portion of the contest and being escorted into the show ring by male friends or family members.
Fleishell said she believes the young women "like that opportunity to get dressed up. ... I think it lets them be a little bit glamorous. They like the idea of saying there is more to me than sheep and horses."
This was the first year the Farm Bureau Women had a competition specifically for children ages 8 to 11. There is no corresponding state contest, so the Howard County Farm Bureau approved its own rules for the Future Farmer and Little Miss Contest.
"I think we just wanted to acknowledge some participation at that age," Fleishell said.
Molly Ousborne, 10, is Hartner's cousin and was the county's first "Little Miss" contestant. She earned her own sash and scholarship by creating a display about the farm bureau history and completing an interview with a panel of judges.
The Dayton Oaks Elementary fifth-grader, who lives in Clarksville, has 4-H projects involving swine, sheep, goats and crafts and is an avid pony rider. She also plays lacrosse and field hockey, does Irish step dancing and plays piano.
"I like that I got to ride on the float with the older girls," in the fair's opening day parade, she said. She said her cousin encouraged her to take part in the Little Miss contest because, "she thought it might be a good idea to learn to speak in front of big groups."
Hartner said public speaking was the most difficult part of the contest for her last year, and something she worked to improve.
"I'm better at one-on-one," she said.
Hartner lives with her family on a 10-acre farm in Woodbine where she raises a flock of Shropshire breeding sheep. This year she also is showing market lambs and hogs and a market goat. She previously showed a dairy heifer and is president of the Howard County Dairy Club.
A graduate of Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, Hartner will attend Mount Saint Mary's University in the fall to study nursing. In high school, she was a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions and the National Art Honors Society, as well as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and a peer minister with her church.
She said she entered the Miss Farm Bureau contest as "a great opportunity to lean different skills and meet new people ... I really want to help little kids show their animals better and know more about their animals and learn about the farming industry."
Courtney Case, 16, of Clarksville was named the first runner up and Amy Brueckmann, 18, of Mount Airy, was the second runner up. Also competing were Meredith Evans, 17, of Ellicott City, Katie Proia, 16, of Clarksville, and Katherine Robinson, 18, of Highland.
Hartner will give out ribbons at animal contests during the rest of fair week and will pose with the animals and buyers at the annual 4-H auction Friday night.
She said she plans to enjoy the fair, where "everyone knows everyone ... there are a lot of close friendships. It's like a whole 4-H family."
And she said she is not yet thinking about the state contest. "I don't think it has hit me yet that I won Howard County," she said. "I'll be floating on a cloud until then."