by Courtney Llewellyn
County fair queens are a familiar sight, moving with their courts through crowds of fair-goers, smiling, waving and representing their realms. Dairy princesses do the same, representing milk producers in their areas. But what about those who want to share their love of agriculture as a whole?
That’s where the new Miss Agriculture USA program comes into play. The program became a nonprofit organization in July 2018 and officially launched in August. Within its first six months, it has already recognized 105 queens.
“When I was younger I did pageants with ag themes, but I was a little disappointed because having the theme doesn’t necessarily mean it supports agriculture – so who better to start an organization that did than those in agriculture?” said Shannon Gallagher Wingert, national queen relations and operations manager for Miss Ag USA. “We have no age restrictions. We are inclusive, not exclusive. Some moms are doing it right alongside their daughters.” (Shannon’s mother, Roberta Gallagher, is the national director and founder of the organization.)
Queens need only to apply to be considered, and there are divisions for all ages – Baby (up to 23 months), Tiny (two – three years), Future Little (four – five years), Little (six – seven years), Petite (eight – 10 years), Junior (11 – 13), Teen (14 – 16), Miss (17 – 20), Ms (21 – 30), Mrs (21 – 30) and Elite (31 years and up).
“There is an opportunity and a need for people to speak positively about agriculture,” Wingert said. “There is something magical about that crown and sash that just draws people in.” The organization has ambassadors as well as queens, and Wingert said they aim to make it a learning experience for everyone.
Lisa Brooks, in charge of sponsorship and sponsor relations for Miss Ag USA, has two daughters involved in the program, Baby Queen Madalyn (17 months) and Ambassador Olivia (four years).
“Having a younger child, you hear that kids think things just come from the store or an Amazon box. This program helps bring awareness to agriculture, to the different products available,” Brooks said. She and Olivia host a lot of social media days on specific topics, posting or sharing videos to educate people about different aspects of agriculture – “and we’re learning things a lot of adults don’t know,” she laughed.
Brooks shared there is a nine-year-old Petite Queen from Centre County, PA, who doesn’t live on a farm but does garden. “She learned all about aquaponics and shared that information with people. You don’t need to live on a farm to love agriculture,” Brooks said. “This program is really for anybody who has a love for any aspect of ag – horses, rabbits, cows. It’s just about a willingness to promote it and educate people.”
There are already queens as far south as Texas and Florida, as far north as Massachusetts and North Dakota and as far west as Washington. “We make impacts in those communities as well as through the power of social media. We make connections across the country,” Wingert said.
Harley-Anne Rose is the only queen currently representing Massachusetts, and she said she decided to join the program because it empowers women to speak up and use their voices to make a difference.
“Not only can we make a difference in our communities through service and helping others but we have the power of education behind us to teach those of all ages about where their food and daily necessities are derived from,” Rose said. “As we gain more sister queens throughout the nation, this grows our voice and will show people all over the world that women are farmers and ranchers and hold an important role in the agricultural industry as a whole.”
Rose, who is attending Quincy College, is a former state reporter and former treasurer for the Massachusetts FFA Association and works on Nessralla Farm in Halifax, MA. She credits the program for giving her the opportunity to learn more about the industry in her area and across the nation.
“I have learned how to speak to groups of all ages and use my knowledge to help others understand why I wear a huge crown and sash,” she said. “My heart has felt so full as I walk in classrooms or local events and hear the kids say ‘That’s a real life princess!’” Or talking with girls all over and showing them anyone can participate in this pageant if you have an interest in agriculture.”
Miss Ag USA is based in Pennsylvania, but Wingert wants to see it grow to the point there is a queen in every state. “We already surpassed our first goals,” she said. “We know we have something special. We’re really passionate about agriculture and our queens.” As the program grows, it will be working on giving back to the queens through scholarships.
And while there is a national competition, it is not the be all, end all for the program. “Our queen competition is one day. We like to focus on what we can do during the other 364,” Wingert added.
“We are agriculture. We are farm girls,” Brooks said. “You don’t need a gown. Throw on your jeans and your sash and represent.”
For more information on the program, visit www.missagricultureusa.org.