By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Frank Rochowiak has been telling the story of agriculture for most of the 55 years he has been a member of Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB).
Rochowiak was one of five recipients of awards recognizing volunteers and media representatives for efforts in promoting and informing the public on agriculture, during the annual Promotion and Education Committee Luncheon Nov. 29 at Michigan Farm Bureau’s 93rd Annual Meeting.
MFB presented him with its 2012 Agricultural Promoter of the Year Award. Alcona High School teacher Brian Matchett earned the organization’s Agricultural Educator of the Year Award.
Former Heritage Newspapers reporter Tanya Wildt and the WZZM TV-13 news team, led by News and Information Director Stanton Tang, were named the MFB Agricultural Communicators of the Year, and freelance writer Cindy Crain Newman earned an honorable mention in the contest.
Rochowiak was recognized for a lifetime spent bridging the gap between farmers and consumers. “Frank is a voice for all farmers – grain, livestock, vegetables and retailers,” said Colette McClinton, president of the Wayne County Farm Bureau.”
He has been active with the local FFA chapter, 4-H youth program, Michigan State University extension and the Wayne County Fair Board.
“I love getting out into the community and promoting where our food comes from,” Rochowiak said. “I’ve been a Farm Bureau member for 55 years and promote agriculture wherever I go.”
Fair Board member Mary Zellner said Rochowiak “is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Once you determine a project, he’s right there to help.”
The award includes a $500 grant for future promotional efforts. Rochowiak was nominated by the Wayne County Farm Bureau and chosen by the MFB State Promotion and Education Committee, from 15 nominations submitted from across the state.
Matchett was recognized for his achievements in agriscience education. He has connected his FFA students to the Alcona County community and has grown the agriscience program more than 300 percent during the past nine years. His students develop critical thinking skills through hands-on projects such as turning sap into maple syrup in the school’s sugar shack, operating a greenhouse and making biodiesel from recycled vegetable oil collected from local restaurants.
Huron Shores Farm Bureau Board Member Stephenye Boyat said “his curriculum is project-based and hands-on, which helps students learn agricultural concepts and apply them.
“Brian is such a go-getter. He gets kids excited about agriculture,” she said.
Matchett said he feels “fortunate to go to school every day to teach students about agriculture. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing students make a connection between a science concept and agricultural production.”
The award includes a $500 grant from the MFB Member Services Department to benefit his classroom projects.
Nominated by Washtenaw County Farm Bureau, Wildt was selected for her extensive coverage of ag news and issues in southeastern Michigan. In addition to printed articles, Wildt covered ag on nearly a daily basis through her blog, “Harvesting Washtenaw.”
She said after taking over the farm beat in late 2011, she met with Wayne County Farm Bureau member Kathy Siler, who shared farmer contacts and many story ideas. “This award is as much hers as mine,” Wildt said of Siler. “I’ve seen the passion the agricultural community has for its craft and I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the industry.”
Siler said Wildt quickly established herself as a premier ag reporter. “She dedicated herself to learning about agriculture and covering agricultural issues,” she said. “The depth and breadth of agricultural coverage in Washtenaw County increased exponentially because of Tanya.”
The WZZM TV-13 news team was nominated by the Kent County Farm Bureau for its track record of sound agricultural reporting and in-depth coverage of issues affecting local communities.
During the past year, the team has covered stories about the effects of adverse weather on various farm commodities, agricultural technology and careers, the farm bill and county Farm Bureau events and programs. “The staff at WZZM has reached out to Kent County Farm Bureau to ensure factual and accurate reporting,” said Annie Link, who nominated the news team for the award. “It’s impressive to see the depth of the stories covered and how professional their team has been.
“They do a fair job. They don’t do a biased story, and we appreciate that,” added Merle Langeland of the Ottawa County Farm Bureau.
Tang, the team’s director, said it strives “to tell honest stories about our communities … agriculture is a large part of that.”
With more than 30 years of experience writing for newspapers, magazines and corporate publications, Newman said her favorite interviews are with farmers. “Nothing makes me happier than to be invited into the cow barn or into the combine cab,” she said. “I’ve had some lovely experiences.”
Nominated by the Midland County Farm Bureau, Newman is a contributing writer for Michigan Blue and Great Lakes Bay magazines, as well as the Midland Daily News.
“It is a real testament to Cindy’s talents that she can write about such complex processes in agriculture and make them interesting enough to keep the community engaged,” said Tricia Steele, who nominated Newman. “Cindy gets out into the fields without hesitation. She gives the reader the whole story and shows how the work gets done.”