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American Star Awards Announced

Published: Friday, November 18, 2022

The American Star Awards were awarded to Kaitlyn Hart of Colquitt County FFA in Georgia, Peter Bliss of Merced-Golden Valley FFA in California, Marin Lonnee of Oconee County High FFA in Georgia, and Jacob Wuebker of the Versailles FFA chapter in Ohio.

Sydney Hefty of the DeKalb FFA in Indiana was a finalist for the American Star in Agriscience.

Hart Received the American Star in Agribusiness. While still in high school, she took a risk and started a business called Kait's Blossoms.

"I wanted to make my supervised agricultural experience (SAE) really unique," Hart said. "Now, six years later, I'm still owning and operating Kait's Blossoms."

Hart's business started small—arranging flowers for her family and friends at birthday parties. She slowly expanded her clientele and services over time, and now Kait's Blossoms makes floral arrangements for weddings and other big events. Hart said she only started doing weddings at the end of 2021, but she's already worked on a dozen of them.

"I could never have a business if it were not for people who wanted to trust me to be a part of someone's special day," she said.

Kait's Blossoms moves with its owner, however. Hart is currently studying hospitality and food industry management at the University of Georgia, so she's had the opportunity to serve two different communities. She said her biggest accomplishment so far is decorating the Georgia governor's mansion for Christmas, but she has no plans to stop there.

"I've absolutely loved the past six years, and being able to serve people," Hart said. "I want to pursue Kait's Blossoms and hopefully open up a brick-and-mortar store one day."

The American Star Farmer was awarded to Bliss.

"I definitely am going to farm for the rest of my life," Bliss said. "I was about six years old when I told myself I was going to farm, and that's what I've been doing ever since."

He is now farming cotton, almonds and wheat. He started with only 30 acres inherited from his grandfather, but his operation has since grown to exactly 417 acres.

Specifically, he has 212 acres for cotton, 105 acres for almonds and 100 acres for wheat. Most of his land is rented, he said, but he wants to own it all someday.

"I'm a fifth-generation Bliss farmer," he said. "We started in the 1880s and I want to continue this tradition."

In the future, Bliss plans to expand his operation by planting new kinds of crops in addition to his usual big three. In fact, he said he's already planted corn silage just recently.

"I plan to diversify a little bit more, get into other crops like corn and hay," Bliss said. "I'd like to grow in size. That'd be really nice."

Lonnee was awarded the American Star in Agriscience.

Lonnee started participating in science fairs when she was a fourth grader, and she said it was her agriculture teacher who encouraged her to take things to the next level a few years later. Her SAE focused on multiple areas of research, all generally unified under the banner of sustainability.

"It's not just plant science and it's not just animal science," she said. "All my projects focus on agriculturally dependent communities and developing them so that they are more productive and sustainable."

These projects include research into bee pollination, hydroponics, plant pathology, plant breeding and even structural development. Despite her years of experiments, Lonnee said what she's actually most proud of are the connections she's made with other people in her field.

Lonnee credited her love for community-focused agriculture to the unconventional, ag-focused curriculum of her third-grade teacher, Diane Parr.

"We did a lot of growing our own produce that got donated to soup kitchens locally," Lonnee said. "She made it very community-oriented."

Lonnee received an undergraduate degree in only three years, and now she's looking to earn a master's degree in forage research so she can continue doing what she loves.

Wuebker was awarded the American Star in Agricultural Placement.

Plants and animals, flora and fauna, crops and livestock—whatever you call them, they're the core of agriculture. Some farmers may choose to specialize in one or the other, but Wuebker manages both.

"My (SAE) is working on my family's diversified grain and livestock farm," Wuebker said. "Row crops consists of corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. We have 2,000 sows, 300 head of dairy steers and we finish out about 3,000 head of pigs at a time."

His family farm is fairly large in order to accommodate all the plants and animals they cultivate. Around 1,200 acres are used for the crops alone.

After he recently graduated from Wright State University—Lake Campus with a degree in agribusiness, Jacob became a full-time farmer for his family's operation, and he said he has no plans to stop.

"I love what I do," Wuebker said. "That's for sure."

Wuebker added that farming gives him a sense of purpose—and that helps him through even the most grueling days of work.

"What I'm most proud of is getting to feed the world and knowing that what I do every day has a purpose," Wuebker said

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