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Teen environmental activist Iris Fen Gillingham in Jeffersonville, NY. Photo: Moriah Aslan

WORLD CHANGERS

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRossa tackles societal inequity through legislative reform; fifth-generation Hudson Valley farmer Cheryl Rogowski connects her community with the land and with each other; 90-year-old pioneer feminist Reszin Adams looks back at a legacy of activism; and 18-year-old environmentist Iris Fen Gillingham takes up the torch to protect the Catskills’ air, water and soil. These four New York neighbors are taking the world into their hands.

DVEIGHT Magazine
Apr 11, 2020 · 9 min read

Iris Fen Gillingham, Enviromentalist

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Photo: Moriah Aslan

Fast forward to this past December and the now 18 year-old, full-fledged environmental activist helped to deliver over 100,000 signatures to New York state in an effort to ban fracking (as well as waste water and water withdrawals used for fracking) in the Delaware River basin. Gillingham has found her fellow youth activists, too. A member of Zero Hour, a youth-led climate organization that facilitated a march on Washington last year, she joined her peers in meeting with over 40 senators in an effort to get them to sign a “no fossil fuels money” pledge, which declared they would stop accepting campaign money from fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and their front groups. “For me, I’m not intimidated because I feel very supported by the group of young people that I’m surrounded by. As teenagers, we don’t have a decision-making body in the rooms where the decisions are happening so it’s vitally important for us to use our voices,” Gillingham says. “The elected officials might not have all listened to us that day, but we are continuing to fight and we will continue to call for change.” This year, Zero Hour is introducing Getting to the Roots of Climate Change, a new program which will appoint youth ambassadors who will speak to climate change from an educative perspective, teaching their peers about contributing factors that extend far beyond inclement weather. “Where I come from inspires me,” adds Gillingham. “I want to bring knowledge back that can help my community here to flourish and to survive what is going to be a very turbulent next decade.” — Alexandra Haechler

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Cheryl Rogowski at her farm in Pine Island, NY. Photo: Matt Novak

Cheryl Rogowski, Farmer

In 2004, when Rogowski became the first-ever farmer to receive a prestigious “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, she was spearheading the operation of a 150-acre farm with dozens of employees, growing hundreds of varietals, and managing a restaurant right in the middle of it all. “You could pick your herbs straight from the flower garden,” she says, “and we’d incorporate that into your food. People could see the tractors pulling in with the harvest. The farmers came and had breakfast at the restaurant, along with all the other guests.”

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Cheryl Rogowski at her farm in Pine Island, NY. Photo: Matt Novak

There, Rogowski says, people witnessed firsthand the way their meals made it from field to plate, which tapped into a great — and growing — sense of curiosity we have about where our food comes from. As she introduced her neighbors to her world of agriculture, she also elevated the people already in it: She brought English tutors on site and became certified to teach ESL herself, in order to set up a classroom and pay her workers to take English lessons during their workdays. And when three of the four supermarkets near her farm in the Warwick area shut down in a single year, she rallied volunteers from her CSA to help ensure fresh produce was delivered to people in their homes. No matter how strong a community she built, she says, the work was still hard. In 2011, Rogowski lost 80 acres of produce to the floodwaters of Hurricane Irene. “The roads were shut down. You couldn’t even get to my farm for days,” she recalls. The water had come within 100 feet of her greenhouses, but they remained untouched. Now, Rogowski has downsized to a ten-acre farm. She still grows hundreds of varietals, involves multiple communities in her CSA efforts, and makes crops spring from the black dirt that none of her peers had thought possible. — Alexandra Marvar

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Melissa DeRosa in her office in Albany, NY. Photo Celeste Sloman

Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to NY State Governor

“As women, we should be challenged and held accountable to the exact same standard as men because if were not, you see reverse sexism. If you want a seat at the table, you’re at the table, but then you have to answer the same questions to the same extent as men.” That being said, DeRosa acknowledges she brings a new perspective to the formerly male position. “I will say that if there wasn’t a 36 year old woman sitting in my chair, I’m not sure that IVF is something that would be prioritized in the governor’s office in the way that it is this year.” As Chairwoman of NYS Council on Women & Girls, DeRosa is presently working on legislation to ensure that New York women with fertility issues can obtain mandated coverage of IVF (in vitro fertilization) via their insurance companies. She is also rolling out a pilot program at community colleges across New York state that will provide daycare for enrolled single parents, and fighting to change the legal standard definition of, “equal pay for equal work” to “equal pay for substantially similar work” as a means to abolish the gender pay gap. “As New Yorkers, we lead the nation on the gender pay gap. It’s 89 cents on the dollar, women versus men, but 11 cents is still too large,” she says. — Alexandra Haechler

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Reszin Adams has been an activist for over 50 years. Photo: Michael Mundy

Reszin Adams, Activist

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