The 2018 Miss Merced County's passion for agriculture led her to winning the crown and becoming a more visible advocate for the industry, she said.
A Merced High School senior, 18-year-old Cassandra Valdez said she was looking for a way to push herself when she tossed her hat into the pageant ring. She was recently named Miss Merced County at the pageant, beating out five others.
"I was shocked. Shocked as can be," she said. "I did the pageant not thinking I could win. I did the pageant as a way to get out of my comfort zone."
Each contestant runs on a platform, whether it be world hunger, advocating for animals or other causes. Valdez picked "My Job Depends on Agriculture," a well-known slogan around the Valley.
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Valdez said she developed her passion for agriculture as part of the FFA team, and while meeting farmers and farmworkers. She even met the farmer who came up with the slogan, she said.
A Merced native, Valdez said her grandparents came to the area from Mexico to work the fields. "It's really awesome that I can connect to them that way," she said. "Really I've developed a passion to help advocate for farm labor."
Valdez is nearing the end of her high school career and plans to study agriculture communications at Fresno State. She said she hopes to study agricultural law at Oklahoma State University.
"I'm just excited to serve my community," she said. "One of my biggest desires, if I won Miss Merced, is really to get involved and give back."