- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — This is the way Maryland’s farm queen tradition ends: not with a crown, but a blazer.

Sixty-two years of tiaras and gowns will come to a close next month at the Maryland State Fair when Hannah Amoss, the 2002 Maryland Farm Bureau Farm Queen, is succeeded by the state’s first “agricultural ambassador.”

The winner will wear a black blazer over a blue polo shirt. She will be poised, informed and enthusiastic — but not necessarily glamorous.

Like most of their counterparts across the country, Maryland Farm Bureau and state fair officials have settled on a more businesslike alternative to the high-heeled, teenage farm queens who once reigned during farm week.

Ambassadors will have the same duties — handing out ribbons, escorting politicians and speaking at agricultural functions year-round — but they will lack the tiara and title.

Dawn Mister, chairman of the state Farm Bureau’s Fair Queen Committee, said regal trappings send the wrong message to modern youngsters and observers.

“We are trying to get away from the stereotypical farm queen,” said Mrs. Mister, the 1989 Calvert County Farm Queen.

Farm queen contests are burdened by misconceptions, she said. The gowns and sashes suggest a beauty pageant, not a test of agricultural knowledge and public-speaking ability. And the “farm queen” title sounds dated, contrary to the sophisticated image the Farm Bureau seeks to project.

“People see the old woman and the old man with the pitchfork in their hand,” Mrs. Mister said.

Today’s farmer “is doing a lot more than wearing bib overalls and having one tractor on the farm,” she said, but many people in America’s increasingly urbanized society have lost touch with agriculture.

Only a small number of states still crown a farm queen, said Jim Tucker, president of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.

“It’s almost over,” he said, because many have adopted the agricultural ambassador approach.

Mrs. Mister grew up on a tobacco farm and now raises hay and grain with her husband, Mark, near Huntingtown. Theirs is one of about 12,400 farms in Maryland, down from 27,100 in 1960, according to the Maryland Agriculture Statistics Service.

Farm numbers have declined nationally, too, from 2.1 million in 1987 to 1.9 million in 1997, when the last farm census was released, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Fewer farms means fewer farm queen contestants. Mrs. Mister said Maryland’s contest hasn’t had representatives from all 23 counties since 1994, and some of the county contests attract just one or two candidates.

Organizers said the ambassador program may include boys in coming years — once Farm Bureau members have digested the current changes.

“It has not been that well accepted in some places,” said F. Grove Miller, a Cecil County dairyman and longtime chairman of the Maryland State Fair Board of Directors.

Harriet Holloway, secretary-treasurer of the Harford County Farm Bureau, said she would reserve judgment until after the state fair, which runs from Aug. 22 through Sept. 1 in Timonium. The gowns may have become too revealing, she said, but “blazers in the middle of summertime? It’s hot.”

The prize for the contest, for girls 16 to 19 years old, is a $6,500 scholarship. Miss Amoss, 19, who grew up on a Harford County dairy farm, is using hers to study elementary education at York College of Pennsylvania.

She said an ambassador might have less prestige than a queen, but that wouldn’t have stopped her from entering the contest.

“To me, it really doesn’t matter if you have a crown or you’re walking around in business attire, just so you’re the voice of agriculture,” she said.

Other Maryland farm organizations are divided on the royalty issue. Several livestock groups have replaced their queens with ambassadors, but the Maryland Dairy Princess Association proudly crowned a 2003 princess last week. The tiara is a proven attention-grabber, chairman Susan Summers said.

“Our girls are trained; they are very smart, and we believe we have moved with the times,” she said. “We just believe the tradition needs to remain as well.”

County Farm Bureau organizations had the option this year of crowning a queen or selecting an ambassador. Frederick County crowned a queen, Julie Roop, 16, of Thurmont, who said winning the tiara had been her goal since childhood, when she used to play with the crown her mother, Mary Jane, won as the county’s 1978 farm queen.

“We wore that crown until it fell apart,” she said.

The change in the state contest “didn’t bother me too much,” Julie said. “I’m still just really excited about being a spokesperson for agriculture. And I still have a tiara that my little girls can play with.”

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