WEST SUNBURY, Pa. — Madeline McEachin grew up at a farm on a hill as tall as the Pennsylvania Fair Queen crown she now wears. Unlike the crown, which has to be attached to her hair with bobby pins, she wears her agricultural background naturally.
McEachin began her 4-H career when she was 13. Now, at 19, McEachin says the fair was “always the best part of the summer.” She started out by showing horses with the rest of her 4-H club. For her last two years, she also showed Nigerian Dwarf goats, a breed of dairy goat.
McEachin has always found her home fair, the Big Butler County Fair, to be “so tight-knit, but so welcoming.” She says there are always new people at the fair, including exhibitors, vendors and visitors, but each year, everyone seems to “pick up where they left off the year before.”
Last summer, she was chosen as the Outstanding Youth, in addition to winning the fair queen title, at her county fair.
For the Outstanding Youth award, 4-H leaders nominate their club members, and the nominees are narrowed down into five final candidates who are then interviewed about the impact that the fair has had on them. The award is given based on participation in the fair and performance in the interview. McEachin was “honored” to be chosen out of all of her peers, who she greatly respects.
Then, in February 2017, she was crowned as the Pennsylvania Fair Queen.
Friendship stands out to McEachin as an important theme of the fair — she describes it as a “10-day-long sleepover” with her friends. Many years, going to the fair was her summer vacation.
Even before McEachin started showing at the fair, she was rooted in agriculture. Her parents, Paul and Karla McEachin, moved to their farm, which sits on land that her grandfather used to own, soon after they married. Her maternal grandparents own a beef farm near her home.
McEachin says she grew up with farmland all around her. However, sometimes distance provides clarity. McEachin just completed her first year as a student at Penn State, majoring in accounting and minoring in agribusiness. Growing up, she never really noticed, but returning from college, she sees the beauty in the scenic landscape of her farm.
McEachin says her job as the new Pennsylvania Fair Queen is to promote agriculture. This includes visiting county fairs as well as other statewide events like Ag Progress Days near State College, and Cornucopia in Harrisburg. At these events, she represents the state fair and discusses the importance of agriculture and fairs with visitors.
She also recently attended Celebrate Butler County in her home county, and Farm to Table at Fox Chase Farm. Some of these events have been educational for her as well.
Fox Chase Farm is owned by the Philadelphia school district, and the opportunities the farm provides are part of the curriculum for students. McEachin says she had never seen that kind of program.
McEachin has also visited some elementary school classrooms. The visits included reading a Dr. Seuss book, Oh Say Can You Seed, and planting potatoes with the students. She currently has 30 fair visits planned for the summer and expects to schedule a few more in the coming weeks.
In the past she may not have realized it, but studying at Penn State has shown her how under-appreciated agriculture is by many of her peers.
“This year, I hope to make people more aware of where their food comes from,” she said.
She and her friends, along with many other exhibitors, often hang out by their animals’ stalls during the week. Her hope is that visitors will see the exhibitors around the barns and not be afraid to ask questions about the animals.
With so many things to learn and experience through visitors, vendors and exhibitors, McEachin says “the fair is good for the community.”