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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Pilot Farmer

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth remembers John Ogonowski. He was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th. Mister Ogonowski also owned a farm in Dracut, Massachusetts and we interviewed him earlier this year about his involvement in a program to help Cambodian refugees get started in farming in this country.


CURWOOD: A tragedy of the proportions of the terrorist attacks of September 11th touches everyone. And for those of us who knew someone, or know of someone, who perished, the stories can be made poignant by coincidence.

Now many of the names of those lost are still unknown. But one of them you might recognize is John Ogonowski. He was the Captain of American Airlines Flight 11 on route from Boston to L.A. when it was forced into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Just a few weeks ago, Living on Earth's Diane Toomey interviewed John Ogonowski. She and producer, Susan Shepherd were preparing a story about his work as a mentor farmer in Dracut, Massachusetts where he owned a 150-acre farm called Whitegate.

You see, the nearby city of Lowell, Massachusetts has one of the largest populations of Cambodian refugees in the U.S., and Captain Ogonowski was helping them get started farming. He not only gave his labor and his land, but he also offered friendship and advice. Maybe it was just a coincidence that Mr. Oganowski was helping Southeast Asian immigrants start new lives in America. You see, as an Air Force pilot he flew transport planes in Vietnam.

John Ogonowski was also generous to our crew. When they arrived at his farm, he whisked them off to a blueberry patch and encouraged them to help themselves, as he explained how he got involved in the project.

OGONOWSKI: It started out with a phone call from the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Gus Schumacher. And this was kind of a little project that he was starting, and he was looking for a place to get it going. And he called me and told me what he had in mind, and I said, sure, I've got some excess land available right now that we could try it on. This was about four years ago, and we've been doing it ever since. It sounded like a good project. My family, they're all immigrants. They came over here and had to start farming over here. So it sounded like a good chance to get some people farming who were farmers in their country before, and now they're living in a city environment. So they had the desire to farm, and we had the land, so we got together.

I think once a person is a farmer, they're a farmer for life. They're hooked. I don't know if the children of these farmers are going to be so active in it, but they may be because these Cambodians, they bring their whole families out here. You'll see the kids out there weeding and picking the crops. So they may take a liking to it. I have three daughters, and they're good workers. They pick blueberries, and sell pumpkins. Hopefully they'll continue, so I can retire.

CURWOOD: John Ogonowski's life was, as we know, cut short. And right now it's unclear whether the work that was started on his farm will continue. But it is clear that his work and his humility are an inspiration for us all, as I suspect are the lives of many of the others who died that day and whose stories are as yet untold.




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