From self-doubt to commanding the room
(Editor’s note: Melyn Rhodes is 2019 Miss Maryland Agriculture.)
As my time as Miss Maryland Agriculture draws to a close, I look back and reflect everything I have gained from this experience. A year ago, when sashed as Miss Maryland Agriculture, I was overcome with emotion. I remember having a delayed reaction and not being able to get out of my chair as they called my name because I was overcome with shock and excitement.
With tears streaming down my face, I became Miss Maryland Agriculture 2019. As I looked back at this moment, I realized that this was possibly the most emotional experience I have ever had. I was shaking from my nerves, in shock that I had just won, and crying happy tears because I now had the opportunity to spread my love of agriculture across Maryland.
It wasn’t until later that night I experienced the emotions that come with self-doubt. While I was confident my passion for agriculture was evident, I was doubtful in other aspects. Unlike some other contestants, I didn’t live on a large farm; my agriculture background was smaller, simpler. My background was growing up on seven acres where we raise horses and goats and being Vice President of my FFA chapter; competing in Career Development Events such as public speaking, agronomy and horse judging. I found myself thinking: “Did the judges make the right decision? Would contestants who had a stronger agriculture background have been a better fit?”
It wasn’t until two days after the contest that I voiced my self-doubt to some members of the court. They assured me that my passion to share my knowledge of agriculture was evident. It was then that I started to feel more confident — my passion for sharing agriculture was what inspired me to compete in the first place. No matter how small of a farm I grew up on, I now had the state’s biggest platform for which to share my passion, inspire others and serve the Farm Bureau. And so, my whirlwind year of service began.
This experience as Miss Maryland Agriculture has not only given me greater confidence, it has given me opportunities of a lifetime. As Miss Maryland Agriculture, I have attended numerous events where I have had the opportunity to not only share my knowledge, but to also learn from others. After being sashed, I spent ten days at the Maryland State Fair, where I interacted with countless consumers and representatives from across the state including Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski and Gov. Larry Hogan. I learned more about animal agriculture from exhibitors and showmen from throughout the East Coast.
One of my favorite experiences as Miss Maryland agriculture was teaching elementary and middle school students about Maryland agriculture. I emphasized the importance of agriculture by doing hands-on activities such as making ice cream and explaining the agriculture products involved in the process. As Miss Maryland Ag, not only did I get to share my knowledge through volunteering and educating at schools, but I was presented with multiple opportunities to learn more about the industry, further strengthening my passion and building on my love for agriculture. Though the Maryland Farm Bureau Day in Annapolis event, I learned about agriculture policy and spoke with Maryland legislators, discussing various bills and how they would directly impact Maryland’s agriculture industry.
Not only have I expanded my knowledge about agriculture, but I also learned about myself. Before getting involved in the Miss Maryland Agriculture program, I was very shy and dreaded speaking in front of large crowds. I never thought that I would have the ability at such a young age to speak in front of hundreds of people and “command the room,” but through the Miss Maryland Agriculture program, I have done what I thought was never possible. Through this experience, I have stepped out of my comfort zone, I have achieved goals that I thought would never be attainable, and I have found the best version of myself. I have made countless appearances that allowed me to touch other people’s lives. The connections and experiences I have gained will surely stay with me for a lifetime.
This time last year, I remember sitting on stage rehearsing my introduction over and over again and trying to come up with any possible question that might be taken off my resume. As I stepped up to microphone, what I had rehearsed, left my brain. The only thing left to do, was speak from the heart. When I opened my heart, I began to discuss my true passion for agriculture. That is when I felt that I was the best version of myself. Without this opportunity and experience, I would not have gained the confidence that I needed to make the most of my college career and to lay the foundation for my future career.
2020 has taught us that the only thing constant in life is change. I believe many consumers learned how essential American agriculture really is through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the changes it brought to our families across the state and nation. As the pandemic began, grocery store shelves suddenly were empty, leaving many consumers in a panic and wondering where they were going to get their essentials — something they maybe never fathomed would face them. Consumers then turned to buying local — which opened their eyes to how hard farmers work to provide for our country and how vital farms of all kinds are to our daily lives and our well-being. While COVID-19 canceled many of my in-person 2020 events, I am beyond thankful to have the experience of being Miss Maryland Agriculture. Though, my time as Miss Maryland Agriculture is coming to an end, I will continue to promote the importance of agriculture wherever I go.
Thank you, Maryland State Fair and Maryland Farm Bureau, for giving me to opportunity break out of my shell and to achieve goals that I never through I would be able to fulfill and Both these organizations have supported me throughout the past year, and for that I am eternally grateful. Thank you to the committee and the program volunteers who give so selflessly of themselves to make this wonderful program possible at both the county and state level — making both professional development and agricultural-based scholarship available to young women throughout our great state. A special thank you to my parents for all of your support during my reign but, more importantly, for instilling in me so many core values learned from our family farm: the value of a hard day’s work, the love of raising animals and the importance of helping each other in order to achieve a bigger goal.
To the next Miss Maryland Agriculture, remember that your year is what you make of it, and what you choose to take away from it. Finally, thank you Maryland, for an awesome year filled with meeting new people, learning more about my state and sharing my love and passion for the agriculture, the industry and its families.