Rogowski honored

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    PINE ISLAND-Sometimes, good things happen to good people. Last Monday, Cheryl Rogowski received a phone call that truly threw her for a loop. After being asked if she was alone in the room, Rogowski was informed that she was named a MacArthur Fellow and would receive a $500,000 award. "It's been pretty surreal," said Rogowski, 43, who has managed her family's farm since 1977. Rogowski had to keep that information a secret until this past Tuesday. That was when the MacArthur Foundation announced it was awarding 23 fellowships to people from various walks of life, including a high school debate coach, a musician, a scientist, a sculptor, and a farmer from Pine Island, N.Y. What is also pretty surreal is that Rogowski has no idea who nominated her for this prestigious honor. She is just grateful to have won. The process is pretty extensive and secretive. The Foundation was set up by John D. MacArthur, a businessman from Chicago who owned the Bankers Life and Casualty Company in Chicago. The self-made billionaire, along with his second wife, Catherine, founded the foundation in 1970. The foundation became operational in 1978 when John MacArthur died. Each year since, approximately $175 million is awarded through two major integrated programs and two specific programs. Being nominated is simply the first step in a process that can take from six months to several years to complete. After being nominated, a person goes through a selection committee, then becomes a candidate. If there is significant interest in this candidate, she now becomes a finalist. The Board of Directors of the foundation then makes the final choices. There are several hundred nominations each year, according to the Foundation's website. There are three selection criteria for the Board of Directors when making their final decisions: Fellows must be exceptionally creative. Fellows must show significant promise for important future advances. Fellows must be able to relieve constraints that prevent the recipient from freely working on their most innovative projects. And, there are no strings attached to the award. If Cheryl Rogowski wants to take her entire family to Disney World, she certainly has the money to do it now! "I foresee some of the money going into some programs I am working on," said Rogowski, including a kitchen project that would bring new technology and allow her to take her raw products and go through a value added process, like turning cabbage into sauerkraut. "It will just be nice to write out a check without worrying about it," she added. Why did Rogowski win the award? Well, she has been instrumental in creating many programs geared to helping those who have less get farm-fresh produce on a regular basis. In 1998, she established the first low-income Community Supported Agriculture program in all of New York State. Three years later, she went to the Village of Warwick and proposed a "Senior Share of the Harvest" program where seniors would pay a fee and receive fresh vegetables throughout the growing seasons. She currently has 107 city members of her CSA and 40 members here. Rogowski initiated a literacy program for migrant workers and mentors immigrant farmers who are looking to establish their own farms. The Rogowski family has been in Pine Island farming for nearly 50 years, when her dad, Walter bought land in Pine Island. Walter died in 1999. Today, the Rogowski Family Farm includes Cheryl's mom, Lillian, her brother and sister, Mike and Sue, and her nephew Kevin. They grow over 250 varieties of produce on 150 acres of land. The Rogowskis are known to use the least amount of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers as possible. When Rogowski first set up the Senior Share of the Harvest program, she said, "We want to reach people who really need this. This is to help people who may not be able to get out and buy fresh produce." Her generosity certainly paid off. Rogowski will begin receiving quarterly installments of her award Jan. 1. It is dispersed quarterly for five years. "This is just incredible," said the stunned Rogowski. "But it's not just me. It's my whole family behind me. What an amazing gift." Rogowski came home Tuesday to 11 messages on her answering machine and numerous cell phone calls. Not surprising, considering her story was included in the New York Times, The Times-Herald Record and a segment on CNBC.