Explained: Ontario Queen of the Furrow

Promoting agriculture and the rural lifestyle

A woman cuts through the crowd, her grin transforming into a wide smile as she reaches royalty.

“I always wanted to meet a queen,” she says, extending her hand toward Derika Nauta, the 2018/2019 Ontario Queen of the Furrow. “Do you plow?”

Derika smiles back, shaking the woman’s hand, “Yes, of course.”

London Farm Show Derika and Sheila

2018/2019 Ontario Queen of the Furrow Derika Nauta

and OPA President Sheila Marshall at the London Farm Show.

This is a scenario that plays out regularly for Derika, who tours the province promoting agriculture and the upcoming 2019 International Plowing Match and Rural Expo (IPM) in Verner, West Nipissing, as well as the event’s parent host, the Ontario Plowmen’s Association (OPA).

“People always want to meet the Queen,” Derika quips later, letting out a laugh.

Derika wears her Ontario Queen of the Furrow sash and tiara with pride, attending Association Plowing Matches, farm shows, parades, agricultural events and more. She never turns down an opportunity to discuss the importance of agriculture and the rural lifestyle.

Having grown up on a dairy farm near Tavistock in Oxford County, they’re topics this 22-year-old knows well.

“It’s nice to get out of your comfort zone and meet all these new people,” says Derika, commenting on some of the major benefits of being Ontario Queen of the Furrow – building people skills and networking abilities.

“It’s more than a pageant.”

Indeed! While appearance is a part of the judging criteria, it’s far from a major factor.

Contestants – each of whom is selected by their local plowing association to represent their region at the IPM – spend two days being assessed by a panel of judges. Points are assigned based on plowing ability, an interview with the panel, and a speech on an agricultural topic delivered on the Main Stage in front of IPM visitors, as well as appearance and deportment.

The top five contestants are then asked to give an impromptu speech during the annual Celebration of Excellence awards ceremony, with the winner announced that evening.

Derika had never plowed when she first agreed to take part in the Oxford County Branch Queen of the Furrow competition. A neighbour was supposed to compete but had to drop out and asked Derika if she’d take the spot.

Derika was only 15 years old at the time but she quickly agreed. Following an introduction to plowing, a little coaching and speech-writing, she was selected as Oxford ag royalty.

The next year, off she went to Mitchell, where IPM 2013 was held, to compete with the other branch Queens.

She wasn’t presented the Ontario crown that time around, but the “amazing” experience convinced her to give it another try in 2017. Again, she was chosen by her local branch and took part in the Queens competition, this time at IPM 2018 in Chatham-Kent.

“Coming at it the second time, I was a little more confident in what I was doing. I was a little more confident with advocating for agriculture. I was more passionate about agriculture,” Derika says. “I think that was the biggest difference (from 2013).”

Another major difference was her age. In order to be crowned Ontario Queen of the Furrow, you must be between 18 and 25 years old. It’s not uncommon for the same woman to represent her branch association more than once; the rules allow them to do it in up to three times.

“It still doesn’t feel real. I don’t think it’ll feel real until the 2019 IPM,” Derika said of being bestowed the provincial crown. “It’s been such an amazing opportunity for me to leave Oxford County and see what else is out there, meet politicians and inspire people who are in agriculture, and see how much bigger things are.”

The Queen of the Furrow program has been part of the IPM since 1960 and is graciously sponsored by the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association. The Queen crowned one year performs a number of duties during the next year’s IPM and is a representative for that event.

“The idea of the Queens program is to promote agriculture, to promote the Ontario Plowmen’s Association and to promote the IPM. The Queen, by doing all of this, gains a lot of confidence in herself, her ability to speak, how to communicate with people, think on her feet,” explains Sheila Marshall, who represents the OPA on the IPM Queens committee and was herself an Ontario Queen of the Furrow back in 1973/1974.

“For me, it was awesome because my dad was a plowman and he had won the gold medal with horses and I wanted to do something as well, so I went through the Queen program,” she says, noting she also plowed competitively.

“Being Queen really got me out into different parts of the province that I probably never would have seen and I met people I wouldn’t have met.”

The program, she adds, “is a real self-confidence builder”, even for contestants who don’t win the provincial title.

“You are still building confidence in yourself and the ability to do all those things – they do it at the local level. The Ontario Queen, she’s just doing it on a broader scale.”

- by Richard Vivian

Barb McAllister

It is with extreme shock and profound sadness that we advise you of the very sudden, yet peaceful, passing of Barb McAllister. Barb joined the team at the Ontario Plowmen's Association in November 2005 as the Event Administrator. She was a dedicated employee who really cared. While she enjoyed the many aspects of her job, the Junior Plowing Competitors were extra important to her.

With the exception of being away from her family, she enjoyed travelling across the province to work at the various editions of the International Plowing Match and Rural Expo. Loading up all that stuff to move to the IPM was just part of the unique experience.

Barb's accomplishments in life are many. She left her mark in all that she did and by the person that she was.

She will be missed.