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El Capitan grad wins ‘star’ award from National FFA Organization — state’s first in 67 years

Willis Wolf, right, a student at California State University, Fresno, poses for a photo with El Capitan Ag Instructor and FFA advisor Celia Casso, left. Wolf was named the National FFA Organization 2019 Star Farmer.
Willis Wolf, right, a student at California State University, Fresno, poses for a photo with El Capitan Ag Instructor and FFA advisor Celia Casso, left. Wolf was named the National FFA Organization 2019 Star Farmer. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

A member of the Merced-El Capitan FFA chapter has been named the National FFA Organization’s 2019 Star Farmer — one of the organization’s top honors.

Willis Wolf received the recognition during the 92nd National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana on Nov. 1, according to a National FFA Organization news release.

He’s the first farmer in California to receive the award since 1952, according to Kristy Meyer, National FFA Organization communications manager. The award is for FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural competencies and skill through completion of a supervised agricultural experience, the release said.

Wolf spent the past few years working on a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) — raising both goats and the hay to feed them, the organization said.

Wolf said he’s raising the animals because the goat industry continues to grow each year, resulting in a huge void and requiring demand to be met.

The Fresno State student and El Capitan High grad said his FFA involvement kept him driven to seek new opportunities and spread his knowledge of agriculture to a larger audience.

According to Wolf, crop diversity and water shortages are two major ways farming in California differs from the rest of the country.

“You’ll be standing next to an almond orchard, next to an apple orchard, next to corn, next to tomatoes,” Wolf said in the release. “During the summer, everything’s irrigated. There’s a huge competition for water between major cities and farmers.”

Wolf advised FFA members looking to start their own SAE to ask for help, like he did.

“Talk to your ag teachers and let them know you want to do something,” said Wolf. “They’re always willing to help. They have connections that they could help you set up.”

While continuing to grow his goat farm operation, Wolf said he hopes to see goat meat on store shelves one day.

According to Celia Casso, El Capitan High agriculture instructor and Wolf’s advisor, Wolf served as the chapter president his senior year and has always been very ambitious.

She watched his project grow from about 180 to almost 700 female goats.

Casso was in attendance at the expo when Wolf was named the 2019 Star Farmer. “It was satisfying to see that he was getting the recognition he deserves,” Casso said.

There were 16 American Star Awards finalists from throughout the U.S. and four winners received cash awards totaling $4,000.

American Star finalists received a $2,000 cash reward, according to the news release.

FFA provides leadership and training through agricultural education to more than 700,000 student members in 8,600-plus local FFA chapters throughout the U.S., Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

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