From the Farm to the Crown
Nestled in the rolling green hills and mountains of Vermont, Jenna Howlett, recently crowned Miss Vermont and the daughter of a dairy farm's proud owners, is a true testament to the power of pursuing one's dreams and embracing diverse passions.
Jenna's story begins on Champlainside Farm in Bridgport, Vermont, a farm that has been at the heart of the Cabot Creamery cooperative for generations. Before she was crowned Miss Vermont, Jenna grew up as the daughter of proud farm owners Tim and Julie Howlett, learning the land her grandfather settled over 70 years ago like the back of her hand and embracing the values of hard work and perseverance.
Jenna's journey from the farm to the crown showcases her deep-rooted work ethic and resilience instilled during her childhood. Farm life demands versatility and adaptability, traits that have become invaluable in Miss Vermont's life journey as she balances her roles as a beauty queen, hair stylist, and farmer's daughter. These qualities have allowed her to approach her platform with a unique perspective and effectively engage with diverse audiences while representing the vibrant spirit of Vermont's farming community.
As she prepares to represent Vermont in the highly anticipated Miss USA pageant, Jenna's story unfolds with inspiration drawn from her rural heritage and Vermont's strong sense of community and hard work. In this interview, we catch up with Jenna and dive deeper into the life of Miss Vermont. From fond memories on the farm to her dedication to pursuing passions and connection, we'll explore how her upbringing has shaped her character and inspired her journey.
How has growing up on a farm shaped who you are and where you are today?
My work ethic is the biggest thing I've carried with me throughout my life. When I was little, I used to go to work with my dad most days, and I could see how passionate he was about his job and how hard he worked for his dreams. I knew I needed to find a job like that—mine just so happened to be the complete opposite of farming!
When I was 18, I opened my own business Redhead Beauty where I do hair and makeup for prom, pageants, and special events. And now, I run my business, and I'm a full-time stylist at Parlour in Middlebury, VT. Something unique I have is my ability to relate with everyone. When you're someone that grew up on a dairy farm and now works in the beauty industry, it's pretty hard not to find something in common with someone.
In what ways do you think your farm upbringing has given you a unique perspective on life, work, and community?
I've learned you really need to love what you do. I overheard a conversation my dad was having with someone, and the person said, "I just want a job that I don't hate going to work every day, do you know what I mean?" and my dad said, "Actually I don't know what you mean, I love what I do."
It was an eye-opening conversation to hear and really taught me that I need to be passionate about what I do. It also has taught me how to have great networking skills. Many times in the farming industry, you see farmers sharing equipment because yours might be broken, and I think it's the same when it comes to any industry, you want to surround yourself with people you can call up and share advice or equipment with.
I also learned a lot about time management, which is something I find most valuable. When I was younger, I used to have to get up and feed my show cow, as well help my sister feed calves. It taught me how to manage my time well and be responsible with a crazy morning and afternoon of feeding calves while being a kid in between.
What challenges did you face growing up on a farm, and how have they shaped your character and resilience?
I've always been a girly girl from a young age. One of my favorite books when I was little was Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor. I used to get bullied a lot throughout middle and high school for being a girly girl and a farmer's daughter. It taught me that no matter your background, everyone has something unique about them and something they're passionate about, and for me, that was being a hair and makeup artist.
And recently, I've been busy focusing on exactly that—pursuing my education and passions. In January 2022, I graduated from O'Brien's Aveda Institute with my esthetics license. Then in August 2022, I graduated from O'Briens again with my cosmetology license, and in December 2022, I completed my business degree from the Community College of Vermont.
What does being Miss Vermont mean to you—what is your platform and focus in this role?
As an adult, I see how prevalent skin cancer is in our society, so I've created my organization, SASH: Sunscreen and Skin Health. As an esthetician, I'm very passionate about wearing sunscreen every day. And as a farmer's daughter, I'm even more passionate about helping my family and ag industry members protect their skin.
I also love talking about how important working in the trades is. I work every day in the trades, and to be honest, college isn't for everyone, so it's important to me to tell the younger generations that it's okay to follow your heart and not go to college.
How do you hope to inspire young individuals, especially those from rural areas, to pursue their dreams and embrace their unique backgrounds?
There's always something to learn from your unique background. For me, it was learning how to work hard and to have networking skills. I would tell someone that you really need to be sure about what you want and to put yourself in the position to pursue that dream and surround yourself with people who will encourage you to pursue what you want. I know many farm kids don't always get the support to pursue careers outside of farming, but you need to find at least one individual that will encourage and believe in you to pursue what you want.
Speaking of pursuing dreams, you looked completely shocked and pretty emotional when crowned Miss Vermont 2023. What was going through your head at that moment?
I truly was in shock, my family told me they jumped up cheering, but my eyes were full of tears I couldn't even see. It was a surreal moment, a dream I've been working towards for nine years, and for it to finally happen was a dream come true!
Going into the Miss USA pageant, what sets apart someone representing Vermont and its values compared to other states?
It's the diversity that Vermont has. I mean, I'm a pageant girl who grew up on a dairy farm. Something that personally sets me apart is the fact that I grew up on a dairy farm. I can find something in common with everyone and connect with people from all walks of life.
With a heart full of passion and a rural upbringing that has shaped her character and resilience, Jenna embodies the vibrant spirit of Vermont's farming community. And as Vermonters and farmers ourselves, we couldn't agree more with Jenna's passion for community, connection, and hard work. We're honored to share Jenna's remarkable journey and look forward to witnessing her bright future.
So get your Cabot snack plates ready, and tune in to the Miss USA competition on Friday, September 29, where Jenna will continue to pursue her dreams, this time for the crown of Miss USA.
Meanwhile…back at the farm.
Miss USA contender Jenna Howlett grew up on her family’s farm with her four sisters, where much of the family still works daily, continuing their great grandfather’s legacy. So, while Jenna has been preparing for the Miss USA competition, we caught up with her sister Kristina back at the farm.
The farm seems like quite the family affair—who all works on the farm, and who does what?
My dad does a little bit of everything around the farm, from doing herd work to being in fields and everything in between—except for the calves, he trusts me to handle everything to do with calves. My oldest sister, Ashley, does all the bookwork and is our financial advisor. I am the young stock/maternity manager, run the chopper, and own our farmstand, Lakeside Market LLC.
As we grew up, we had a few jobs around the farm, and my other sisters decided the farming life wasn’t for them. My grandfather helps us occasionally with field work if we need him, which we usually do.
What is it like continuing the legacy of your great grandfather who started the farm over 70 years ago?
It’s very cool to continue my great-grandfather’s legacy. Sometimes I wonder if my great-grandfather wanted what we have now for the farm or if it was just a crazy dream for him to have the farm this big. I love seeing pictures of how the farm used to look and comparing it to what it looks like now. My dad and grandfather worked and continue to work hard to get it where it is now.
What’s the best part about working on the farm? What’s the hardest part?
One of the best parts about working on the farm is witnessing the calves I raise become mothers of their own. It’s a very rewarding feeling knowing that my hard work got them to that point in their lives.
I also run the chopper, so it’s cool to know I’m harvesting feed for all the cows. I also really love talking to consumers about farming and hearing how much people love Cabot products. But the hardest? Probably farming in the winter. It’s cold, and everything is frozen. Listening to hungry calves when milk lines are frozen is not fun. Sometimes, we have to dig calves out of hutches because there’s so much snow. We don’t get to take any snow days at the farm.
Did you always know you’d continue to work on the farm? What about life as a farmer draws you in?
Our parents always wanted us to follow our dreams, whatever they may be, and at first, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. At one point, I considered becoming a diesel tech (I was in a diesel tech class in high school), but that wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I was applying for college that I realized I wanted to be on the farm. I really enjoy working with animals, so it was like a no-brainer.
I do think I will make farming my lifelong career. I’m not really sure what I would do if I weren’t farming alongside my dad. I have a lot of goals for the farm.
Are there any specific traits gained through working on the farm that you think helped shape you and who you are?
Being a farmer is more than taking care of cows and being in the fields—there are many moving pieces. Some days, you have to think quickly to get things fixed to keep things going, so on top of my everyday jobs, I might also be a vet (to an extent), an electrician, a plumber, and a mechanic (on rare occasions). Time management and motivation are definitely key factors in making sure everything gets done by the end of the day.
You work on the farm day in and day how, what’s it feel like to have a sister in the spotlight getting ready to compete for Miss USA?
It’s fun to have a sister in the spotlight and sometimes I get to tag along on little trips with her. It’s funny because Jenna’s whole life, she was getting “oh, you’re Kristina’s (or one of the other sisters) little sister.” Now, us older sisters—mainly me since I’m the only other sister home—get, “oh, you’re Jenna’s older sister or oh, you’re Miss VT USA’s sister.”
The fact that Jenna grew up on a farm makes her very unique. You don’t usually hear about farm girls also being a pageant girl. Jenna is very determined and hard-working. She’s always been that way, and I think being raised on the farm has shown her that if she wants something, she has to put in the work for it. I’m very proud of her for all her hard work to get where she is now. It’s very cool to watch her achieve her dreams.
Tune in to The CW Network to watch Jenna represent Vermont and all of the farmers of America in the 72nd Miss USA Pageant on Friday, September 29, 8-10 pm ET/PT.