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Fair fallows farm queen competition

April 17, 2004|by DAVID DISHNEAU

The Maryland State Fair no longer will host the state farm queen contest because tiaras and gowns belong in the past, fair board Chairman F. Grove Miller Jr. said Friday.

Miller said board members voted to end their nearly 60-year association with the event Thursday night, two days after directors of the Maryland Farm Bureau restored the regal trappings to the farm youth competition.

"There are some people on my board that have some very strong feelings about the word 'queen.' They feel that that's in the past and we ought to move forward," Miller said.

Maryland Farm Bureau President Earl "Buddy" Hance, of Port Republic, said the group probably will hold the contest at its annual meeting in Ocean City in December.

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"We'll figure it out," Hance said.

Last year, the farm queen contest was changed to an "agricultural ambassador" competition, with the winner wearing a businesslike black blazer instead of a gown and glittering crown. The Farm Bureau's Women's Committee, which oversees the contest, made the change with the fair board's support in an attempt to modernize the event and attract more contestants.

But the change rankled traditionalists on the Farm Bureau's mostly male governing board, which voted Tuesday to restore the farm queen format. Proponents said a tiara commands more attention than a blazer, creating more awareness of agriculture.

Miller said a large majority of the 27 fair board members who met Thursday felt the Farm Bureau was "just dictating to us what we should do."

He said the fair board spent about $18,000 annually on the event, including a $6,500 scholarship for the winner.

Her responsibilities included awarding ribbons at the fair and representing Maryland agriculture during official appearances all year.

"It affects the young ladies, and that's the sad part," Miller said.

He said the fair board may develop its own agricultural ambassador program, open to teens of both sexes.

Current Maryland Agricultural Ambassador Sara E. Wiles, 17, of Clear Spring, said she preferred casual business attire to a gown during fair week because she didn't have to fret about stocking snags. But she said the blazer "wasn't as much of an attention-grabber" as the tiara.

"If I could pick which one, I think I would combine a little bit of both, but keep the tiara because it helps you to be recognized in a crowd," she said.

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