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.
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.