When Brooke Hartner presents a sash to the new Miss Farm Bureau this afternoon at the Howard County Fair, she may give the winner a few words of advice.
"[I would say] never be afraid to meet new people and to take the opportunities that are presented to you because they're a lot of fun and a great experience," said Hartner, the 2006 Miss Howard County Farm Bureau.
After a year of being a spokeswoman for the farm bureau, Hartner, 18, said she has gained maturity from working with adults and being a role model for children.
Her primary responsibility was "just to get out there and talk to people about farming" by attending banquets, meetings and retreats and visiting children at their schools.
"She was marvelous. She presented at all of the events that we asked her to," said Annette Fleishell, the contest chairwoman. "She's done a wonderful job."
Fleishell said the purpose of the event, sponsored by the county Farm Bureau Women, is to find a young woman who is "knowledgeable about agriculture, has a warm personality and can communicate with the public."
This year, there are seven contestants, one more than last year. The judges are residents of other counties and do not know any of the participants, Fleishell said.
While Hartner said she enjoyed all of her experiences, one of her favorite memories was handing out ribbons as the newly crowned Miss Farm Bureau to winners of the animal show contests at the fair last summer.
"It was so much fun. I think I always wanted to hand out ribbons to people," she said.
Hartner, who estimated that she attended seven or eight major events as Miss Farm Bureau, said she particularly enjoyed reading stories to children and using puppets to teach them about sounds that animals make.
"I really wanted to be able to reach out to the younger crowd about how important farming is," Hartner said. "Maybe down the road, they'd be really interested in the cause."
When Hartner was 7, a family friend who had been named Howard County Farm Queen let Hartner put on her sash and crown. From that moment, Hartner said, she wanted to compete for the title, though the crown has been retired and the contest name has changed since then.
Hartner, who participated in the competition in 2005 as well, said she was shocked and excited when she won. Although the event was "nerve-wracking" for her because the contestants had to answer questions and deliver a speech in front of an audience, she credits the contest for helping her combat her fear of public speaking.
Hartner said that if she could do anything differently, she would have visited more schools.
"I would've gone up to the schools to talk to kids more than I did, but I didn't have a chance to when I was in college. I have more of a chance to now that I'm at home," she said.
In the fall, Hartner will begin her second semester at Howard Community College, after spending one semester in Mount St. Mary's University. "I loved St. Mary's, but it just wasn't the financial fit for me," she said.
At first, Hartner wanted to study nursing, but she switched to elementary education after she did a service learning project for college at an elementary school and "fell in love with [teaching children]." Hartner said her experience talking to preschool students as Miss Farm Bureau helped reaffirm her decision. "I can't wait to be a teacher," she said.
Hartner's cousin, Molly Ousborne, 11, of Clarksville, became the county's first Little Miss Farm Bureau last summer. Molly said she enjoyed getting a sash and learning more about agriculture and the farm bureau.
"I liked it a lot," she said, and it helped me with my talking skills 'cause I used to be really shy. But now I can easily talk."
Hartner lives with her family, including two of her three older brothers, in Woodbine. Her mother, Veronica Hartner, said the family went to every function that her daughter attended as Miss Farm Bureau.
"Because she's the youngest in the family, pretty much everything has revolved around her. Whatever she gets involved in, we just go in feet first," she said.
As much as she enjoyed her experience, Hartner said she does not see herself as a spokeswoman for any other group soon. "This was something that I was interested in, but I can't think of anything else that I feel as strongly about," she said.
Hartner has been working as a nanny this summer and taking care of her sheep and pigs. She will show her breeding sheep and market animals at the fair but plans to sell all her livestock afterward.
"Having to feed the animals morning and night and take care of them. ... I think that's mainly what I want to have a break from, but I definitely plan to do something [with farming] down the road," Hartner said.
"I think farming is a great opportunity for kids to learn responsibility because I know I learned responsibility from taking care of my animals," she said.
Eight days of animal shows, exhibits, rides, contests, entertainment and demonstrations.
Yesterday through Saturday , 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Howard County Fairgrounds, 2210 Fairground Road, West Friendship. Take Exit 80 off Interstate 70.
$5 for those ages 10 and older, $2 for those ages 62 and older; free for children younger than 10.
Free at the fairgrounds.
www.howardcountyfair.org, or 410-442-1022.