“Here she is, Miss America!”
Mark O’Neill, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau communications director, has always wanted to say those words, and he finally got the chance, as he introduced Betty Cantrell during a news conference at the 2016 Ag Progress Days, Aug. 16.
Cantrell took time to play educational games with children to teach them about farming and where their foods comes from, and to address the general public about her platform: Healthy children, strong America, at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau exhibit building.
“She may not be your typical Miss America,” but O’Neill said they are excited to have someone with her background as a part of the organization.
“I think it is safe to say that we have never had a sitting Miss America at this event before,” said Rick Roush, dean of Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Roush acknowledged Cantrell’s current platform and linked it to the college’s efforts to encourage healthy eating and lifestyle choices among Pennsylvania families and youth.
“As a 4-H alum, I think Miss America would be interested to know that we have 90,000 4-H members across the Commonwealth,” said Roush, who added that a common theme for the 4-H youth building and family building at Ag Progress Days this year was focused on healthy eating and lifestyles.
Her farm background
Growing up on a 675-acre farm in rural Georgia, Cantrell said she was excited to be a part of this Miss America program and represent the agriculture industry.
“I feel like it is so different than most pageant girls and I feel like I have been able to shed a new light on this Miss America organization and what we are all about,” said Cantrell.
Although she grew up on a farm, Cantrell joked that it was more recreational than commercial. “It was more like a big playground for my dad to go hunting,” she said. Cantrell said they raised pine trees and rented additional acres out to a company that grew peach and pecan trees. “We were a typical Georgia farm with peaches and pecans,” she said.
“That was kind of my whole childhood – growing up outdoors – which really had a huge impact on me and why I chose my personal platform,” she said.
But Cantrell wasn’t one of those “toddlers in tiaras,” wearing the fancy evening wear and practicing her princess wave on the big stage growing up.
“I grew up in a double-wide trailer my whole life,” she said. “I didn’t start doing pageants until about two years ago. I did my first pageant on a whim – just for fun – and for some scholarship money.”
She decided she really liked the pageant life and “I was really good at it,” she joked, noting her success at being crowned Miss Georgia. After winning the Miss America title and announcing her “Healthy children, strong America” platform, she said she was excited to connect with the American Farm Bureau Foundation. “I was able to expand my platform and reach kids on a deeper level, helping kids understand where their food comes from,” said Cantrell.
While her platform may focus on the children, she said it is important to her to connect everyone to farmers and agriculture. “I think farmers are widely misunderstood,” noting what all she has learned about agriculture since taking in the Miss America Role.
“It’s so much more advanced now,” said Cantrell. “Tractors drive themselves practically and many don’t realize that.”
Meeting Miss America
Pennsylvania State FFA President Libby Baker-Mikesell said, “It’s nice to have someone who can reach out (to the public) on a higher level. We, as FFA members, can only connect with so many people.”
Baker-Mikesell said her officer team had only just learned a few days prior to the event that they would be meeting Miss America and couldn’t be more excited to meet her.
Youth attending Ag Progress Days Aug. 16, between 10 a.m.-2 p.m., had an opportunity to interact with Miss America during a game of hopscotch and trivia questions asked by Miss America herself.
“Through Farm Bureau, I’ve been able to show kids and teach kids how to grow their own food with the First Peas to the Table book,” said Cantrell. She said it was fun to see kids around the country grow their own peas and see how their food is produced.
“It’s just been a really cool year for me,” she said, as she wrapped up her last official event as Miss America.
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