SYRACUSE — North country royalty is heading to the 58th annual state Dairy Princess Pageant this weekend, with the 2020 dairy princesses from Franklin and Jefferson counties competing for the crown.

Of the 26 county dairy princesses in 2020, princesses from 11 counties will compete in the two-day pageant from the Embassy Suites by Hilton Syracuse Destiny USA, streamed live online on Tuesday.

The state pageant is hosted by the American Dairy Association North East, which advocates for dairy farmers in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Princesses will be judged for communication skills, knowledge of the dairy industry, poise and personality across six categories: a personal interview, an impromptu question, a prepared adult speech, a product knowledge exam, writing skills and informal interaction with others.

Franklin County Dairy Princess Amy Gokey, 17, and Jefferson County Dairy Princess Elizabeth Hyman, 16, are among the 12 originally slated to compete. Lewis County Dairy Princess Hannah Raymond, a junior at Lowville Academy, withdrew from the pageant and plans to compete at the county level again to vie for the state crown next year.

Shelby Benjamin, Chenango County; Holly Niefergold, Erie County; Faith Avedisian, Monroe County; Sarah Keehan, Montgomery County; Alyssa Buck, Oneida County; Cara Walker, Ontario County; Gabriella Miyoshi, Orange County; Taylor Bonoffski, Oswego County; and Kailey Kuhn, Wayne County, complete this year’s court.

The Franklin and Jefferson County teens said they have prepared their required 3- to 5-minute speeches and are now working to memorize them.

“The idea just came to me one day when I was out working in the barn,” Miss Gokey said. “So I wrote it up and I just went with it. The day of the speech I’m going to go in as confident as I can.”

She’ll share her thoughts on “farmers as heroes” keeping food systems afloat in an especially trying year.

Miss Gokey, a senior at Franklin Academy, lives on her parents’ first generation 400-Holstein dairy farm in Burke, where they landed in 1992. The youngest of eight — sisters Alison, Amanda, April and brothers Andrew, Adam, Austin and Alex — Miss Gokey has been a dairy ambassador since she was 10. Her three older sisters were Franklin County dairy princesses, and April went to the state competition in 2016. She was crowned second alternate, marking the first time in 30 years a Franklin County princess took home a state title.

Like county princesses before her, Miss Gokey writes a regular dairy column for the Malone Telegram.

Inspired by her sisters and parents, Steven and Marsha Gokey, Miss Gokey said she is eager to represent her farm, her livelihood and her community on the state stage.

“I’ve been feeding calves since I was little,” she said. “Being involved in dairy programs and 4-H has really pushed me in the direction of dairy.”

Come graduation in June, Miss Gokey will begin undergraduate studies in Agricultural Business Management at SUNY Cobleskill.

County princesses serve as yearlong community advocates for dairy, a reimagined role amid the global health crisis that continues to grip the nation. Most county pageants, including Franklin’s, were held virtually last summer, and princesses have taken to social media to engage the public.

On Hylight Farms in Smithville, Miss Hyman has focused her princess advocacy work on food and milk drives, assisting with distribution for families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A junior at Belleville Henderson Central School, Miss Hyman fed calves twice a day, every day last spring when school was fully remote. She continues to work with her mom and siblings, who mostly operate equipment and manage crops for the 600-cow farm.

“Being able to share the three key messages with consumers of environmental stewardship, cow care and dairy nutrition is something that I believe in, and I would be honored to be able to do that at the state level,” Miss Hyman said.

The pageant will be streamed from Syracuse on the American Dairy Association North East Facebook page,, starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Times staff writer Rachel Burt contributed to this report.

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