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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Growing Relationships: SSC and Lake Apopka

This was not Linda Lee’s first visit to Seminole State College, but it may have been her most difficult. Former Lake Apopka farmworker and Memorial Quilt quilt-maker, Linda suffers from several illnesses related to her decades long exposure to pesticides. Despite feeling ill and exhausted, her body in more pain than usual, Linda still rose early and spoke to students about her personal experiences and loss in Apopka. Her power and dedication to her community is inspiring to us all.

Seminole State College in Altamonte Springs, FL is less than 10 miles from the east shore of Lake Apopka, and yet many students will complete their college years with no idea of the injustices occurring in their own backyards. This fact is what drives Linda Lee and our other educators to continue nurturing our relationship with Seminole State College.  Visiting a class a single time is not enough, but as we continue to present to classes, more and more students take the message to heart and share it with their peers and families. 

Social Justice often grows slowly and the seeds Linda Lee and all of us plant need tending.

Dale Slongwhite, author of Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food and friend to the Farmworker Association got the students engaged during her portion of the presentation. She asked students to bend over as if they were picking crops for one minute. This one minute may be a tiny fraction of their day, but when Dale asked them to imagine spending an entire workday in this position, many students groaned and rubbed their backs in response. This small movement connects them to the physical nature of farmwork and connects them in a small way to la lucha, the farmworker struggle. As we continue to tend the seeds we plant with our community partners, we are continuously thankful for the dedication of Linda Lee and the enthusiasm and engagement we get from students. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Building Relationships: Apopka and Loyola

Loyola University in Maryland has been building an enduring relationship with the Apopka Community for several years now. Their weeklong service learning trips begin with our friends at Hope CommUnity Center and lead them through an immersive and transformative week. Many students are deeply impacted by the experience, and several have continued the relationship by joining AmeriCorps for a year of service to the community.

A new group of college students connected with the Farmworker Association on January 4, 2016. The program began when our Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator first introduced the students to the history of Lake Apopka, and then explained the legacy of oppression that still strangles farmworkers today.

The incomparable Linda Lee came to share her story with the students, and touched the hearts of many of those in attendance.  She shared her feelings about the great losses in her community, and the community’s many years of struggle for justice. Her powerful words and poignant stories continue to transform the hearts and minds of all those who hear her, and they sow the seeds of personal growth that, for many, may influence their future paths in life.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Americorps Takes a Toxic Tour

Learning from Lake Apopka History
The Americorps team based out of Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, FL is thirty-three members strong this year. Each member is placed at a different site that provides services to the community, such as working in a school or at a local non-profit, like here at  the Farmworker Association, where we have had an AmeriCorps volunteer  every year for the past 7 years. Each individual’s commitment to service is about helping the local community, and  about engaging in the work of social justice. Recently, the members had an opportunity  on December 4th, 2015 to hear from former farmworker and Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Project quilter, Linda Lee. Linda shared her personal story of injustice while working on  the Lake Apopka muck farms. With great strength and passion, she shared the pride her father had in being a farmworker, and her strong belief that farm work is honorable and skilled work. 

The FWAF Pesticide Health and Safety Coordinator shared her experiences in witnessing the mistreatment of the farmworkers when the farms unceremoniously closed in 1998, costing over 2,000 people their jobs, and in many cases their homes. She also showed the group sites of the former farms and the contaminated lake that spurred the clean-up effort that eventually closed the farms. She explained the historical roots in slavery that allow farmworkers to be abused and excluded from labor laws that protect the rest of the population. Domestic workers, as the other class of workers excluded from U.S. fair labor laws, also are a living legacy of slavery in this country, as they perform the work that was indicative of former slave labor in the United States.  To the shock of many, she shared with the AmeriCorps group how bad the conditions are for farmworkers in our country today. The unbelievably low wages and the general disrespect they suffer was upsetting and disturbing to the listeners, but they recognized it as an important part of history and as a disturbing current reality.
Adding to the poignancy of the Toxic Tour, Sister Ann Kendrick of Hope CommUnity Center  remembered the sorrow and loss felt by the farmworkers as their employers made clear that their workers were expendable and less than fully human to them. Hearing the Linda Lee was a moving experience for the group, and learning the history of Lake Apopka will inform the rest of their year of service to the community.