10 Questions With Mikara Anderson: Pennsylvania State Fair Queen And Penn State Freshman
To Penn State freshman Mikara Anderson, the open fields, cows, and silos that fill Centre County’s landscape are nothing new.
Anderson hails from Huntington County, Pennsylvania, where she grew up surrounded by agriculture and farms. Her home is currently a sheep farm, but she credits her early agricultural roots to spending time on her grandfather’s dairy farm.
At Penn State, Anderson studies animal science with a business option. However, her passion for agriculture goes deeper than her coursework. This past January, she won the title of Pennsylvania State Fair Queen at the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs Convention in Hershey, PA.
We sat down with Mikara to learn more about her background and her experience as State Fair Queen.
Onward State: How did you first get involved with your own county fair?
Mikala Anderson: I started showing my own horse at the county fair when I was just four years old. I showed horses from age four until about 10. Then, I joined 4-H when I was eight, so I just went through that way. I did 4-H and FFA. I am still in FFA, but my 4-H years just ended. Now, I’m just more helping with our fair board.
OS: What made you decide to run for fair queen?
MA: When I was probably eight years old, we had a few fair queens that I really looked up to. At the time, I showed horses, and they also showed horses. I looked at them and told my mom that I want to do that someday. My mom was like, “yeah right. You don’t like to wear dresses. You don’t really like to do that stuff. That’s not going to be you.”
My fair has a junior ambassador program where girls ages 13-15 can help throughout fair week. You get a small little sash — then you help the fair queen and her court. When I was 11, we didn’t realize the age was 13, and my mom called the fair asking if I could do this program. They said that I wasn’t old enough, but there weren’t enough people that year, so the fair told me to go ahead.
From the ages of 11-15, I was a junior fair ambassador. That solidified my decision that I wanted to be the fair queen that’s promoting my county fair. I wanted to be a public figure. My county’s fair queen doesn’t just have duties during fair week. We also visit schools and other public events to promote our fair and agriculture. I knew it was something I wanted to do when I was older.
I waited until I was older so I would be able to drive and to put a better effort forward. When I was 18, I ran for fair queen and got it. Then, I got to run for state fair queen, which was just a fabulous experience that I never dreamed it would be.
OS: What is the process of becoming a fair queen at both the County and State level?
MA: Most counties generally have the same rules, but my county’s a little different. In general, you have to submit an application and be between 16 and 20 years old. County fair queens go through an interview process, a three-to-five-minute speech on why you should come to my fair, usually a 300-word essay answering the question “What does my fair mean to my community,” an impromptu question on stage, and sometimes an introduction on stage as well. That’s what most county fairs do.
My fair is a little special. We have to create a farm safety display board, and we also have to give a tour of our fairgrounds. It’s a really great idea. When you have state dignitaries and government officials, our fair queen is the person that takes them around the fair, so it’s important to know the history of the fair.
When you go to the state level, it’s the same process. You have the application, the interview, the three-to-five minute speech, the essay, the introduction on stage, and then if you’re in the top five, those are the only girls that answer an impromptu question.
OS: What does your job as Pennsylvania State Fair Queen entail?
MA: I am required to go to at least one fair in each zone. There are four zones of fairs in Pennsylvania, so I’m required to go to at least one of those. I am required to go to a couple state events such as The Cornucopia, which is held in Harrisburg, Farm City Days at the Pennsylvania Farmshow complex, and Ag Progress Days as well. I also have to go to the State Fair Convention as well to crown the next State Fair Queen and the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Throughout those events, my job is to talk to the public and advocate for our agriculture and tourism industries.
OS: “What my fair means to my community” is the essay topic given on the State Fair Queen application. What does your fair mean to you community?
MA: In my essay, I shared a lot of things. One of the major things I shared with my fair is the agricultural connection that’s branching the public who has been so far removed from the farm to our farmers themselves. My fair is the one place that one time a year, instead of people being unhappy and dealing with the troubles of the world, the fair is the one place people can go and smile.
The fair is a week-long experience that people are able to set aside their differences, get away from the workplace, the classroom — whatever your situation may be — and are really able to relax and take in what our agricultural community has to offer.
OS: What other agricultural activities have you been involved in and what are you currently involved in?
MA: I was involved in 4-H for many years, but I’m also currently involved in FFA through my high school’s program. I am a member of the Junior Holstein Association through my county. We do a Dairy Quiz Bowl and public speaking activities. I was involved on the Junior Fair Board at my fair and dairy promotion for five to six years. I show sheep at the local, state, and national level.
I’m a member of the Pennsylvania Livestock Association, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the Huntington County Farm Bureau, and The Pennsylvania Sheep and Wool Growers. Since I came to college, I have joined the Block and Bridle Club, the Dairy Science Club, and the LEAD Society.
OS: How has this experience of being the Pennsylvania State Fair Queen contributed to your future?
MA: I do want to go to law and hopefully be an agricultural lawyer someday. My dream job would someday be to work in the state’s Department of Agriculture in Harrisburg as one of its in-house attorneys.
I think this state fair queen experience gave me a taste of what I would be doing. A lot of the events I was attending are events that agriculture dignitaries, such as attorneys and secretaries of agriculture, attend. They give speeches and talk about the different issues within agriculture as well as the success stories, too. This whole experience really gave me a taste of “yes, this is what I want to do.”
I think it also put me into a position to maximize my leadership skills and public speaking ability. Sometimes, I would go to a county fair and know absolutely no one there. It was just me and my mom usually. It was up to me to be a role model for these younger kids that are in these agricultural organizations as well as the ones who are just visiting the fair.
OS: The night of the pageant must have been an overwhelming experience. What was it like to hear your name called as the winner of the Pennsylvania State Fair Queen title?
MA: I’m sitting there beside the four other girls in the top five. I was just incredibly grateful to be at the State Convention to begin with, and then to be named one of the top five. I was only the second person from my county to be named in the top five at the state convention. Our last one was in 2003, so it had been a while since Huntington had been in the top five. I believe that my fair should get that recognition. Who doesn’t love their county fair?
Obviously, I was just really happy to represent my fair in that capacity. In those couple of moments, I was holding the girls’ hands next to me that I barely knew, but it was okay. They all had the same passion that I did.
Then, the MC said “Contestant No. 25,” which was my number, and it was a whirlwind. The girl beside me was patting me, saying “Hey, that’s you! Get up!” I was like, “Oh, that’s me!”
It was kind of shocking. All I could hear was my county fair’s tables yelling and screaming. My head coordinator Amy was crying. I could hear her crying. It was very rewarding, but shocking at the same time.
OS: What has your favorite memory been as the Pennsylvania State Fair Queen?
MA: I would say my favorite memory was just a few weeks ago at Farm City Days. That’s an event for about 2,000 inner-city students, where all the commodity groups are represented and the animals are there for the Keystone International Livestock Exposition.
These young elementary schoolers who have never had any connection to agriculture are able to experience it first hand. That was really a life-changing event for me. I just think I take for granted that I know where my milk comes from, I know where my cheese comes from. I know all these different aspects of agriculture whereas these kids come in and they’re like “Wow! Cows are this big!” and “That’s where my milk comes from? I didn’t know that.”
I think that was a very memorable event for me because I felt as if I was talking to these students and might have made a difference in their lives or helped them choose some aspect of agriculture that they otherwise wouldn’t have experienced.
OS: As per Onward State tradition, if you were a dinosaur, what would you be and why?
MA: I would pick a Brachiosaurus because they seem like gentle giants and don’t want to cause harm. Also, I feel like it would be neat to be tall, since I am pretty vertically challenged.
Editor’s Note: Anderson’s responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
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