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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Lake Apopka Farmworker and Youth Present at the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference in Durham, NC

By Dominique Aulisio, 
Director of YAYA of the National Farm Worker Ministry

Linda Lee, former Lake Apopka farmworker and community quiltmaker presented the Blue Quilt to a packed room at the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference in Durham, North Carolina on Saturday, October 20. This was a very special joint presentation with the Farmworker Association of Florida, Hope CommUnity Center and YAYA – youth group of the National Farm Worker Ministry. Our three organizations fundraised to jointly send a delegation of six people to the conference in order to share the history and struggle of the Lake Apopka farmworkers with an audience of Black farmers and gardeners and activists from across the U.S. and beyond. We held an online fundraiser, bake sales in Apopka and at UCF, and held a drawing for gift cards to local businesses.

During our workshop, Linda Lee detailed the history of pesticide contamination on Lake Apopka, chronic and multi-generational health problems, systemic racism, and the twenty-year battle to obtain health care for the workers. She also shared the joys of working alongside her sisters on the farms. Robyn Thomas, an Apopka resident who is part of the Americorps program at Hope CommUnity Center, shared her father's experience as a farm worker, and also spoke on the environmental racism in Apopka and ongoing health problems in her family. Cheyanne Swift, who is Linda's granddaughter, shared the words of the late Apopka organizer Geraldean Matthew from a passage of the book Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food.  Tareek Leonard, YAYA member whose inspiration led the effort to attend the conference, moderated the presentation. The reception was very warm. Workshop participants expressed outrage at the injustice the Lake Apopka workers have endured, as well as solidarity and appreciation for the history shared orally and through the quilt.

While at the conference, we were also able to make important connections and contacts regarding land sovereignty, food sovereignty, and workers’ rights. Tareek Leonard gives a perspective on what it meant to our organizations to participate in the conferenceAlso attending the conference were Dominique Aulisio, YAYA Director, and Shaul, an active YAYA member.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

History of Lake Apopka Farmworkers Featured in Exhibit with Red Quilt

Apopka Historical Society Hosts Reception at Museum, Linda Lee as Speaker

Since mid-August, the Red Quilt of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Project, has been on exhibit at the Museum of the Apopkans on 6th Street in our South Apopka Community.  In a display that includes photos, copies of the quilt brochures, the book Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Foods, the Lake Apopka Farmworkers Environmental Health Study report, archival newspaper articles, and individual quilt squares by primary quilt maker, Linda Lee, the exhibit is one of the most comprehensive and attractive displays that Central Florida has seen.

On Sunday, October 7th, the Apopka Historical Society hosted a reception for the exhibit and the Farmworker Association of Florida, with Society President, Francina Boykin, introducing Keynote Speaker, Linda Lee, who talked about her personal experiences as a farmworker and of her experience of making the quilts.  In addition, author Dale Slongwhite was present, telling her experience of how she became involved in and committed to writing a book about the Lake Apopka Farmworkers.  She read excerpts from her book of Ms. Lee’s personal story, after which both the Ms. Lee and Ms. Slongwhite took questions from the audience. 

FWAF long-time staff member, Luckner Millien, was present, as well, and mentioned the need to do research on and incorporate the history of Haitian farmworkers in the Apopka area into the overall museum collection.  All agreed that this would be an important project to undertake.

On Sunday, October 7th, the Apopka Historical Society hosted a reception for the exhibit and the Farmworker Association of Florida, with Society President, Francina Boykin, introducing Keynote Speaker, Linda Lee, who talked about her personal experiences as a farmworker and of her experience of making the quilts.  In addition, author Dale Slongwhite was present, telling her experience of how she became involved in and committed to writing a book about the Lake Apopka Farmworkers.

With autumn and Halloween themed sweets and refreshments, the event concluded with conversation and conviviality.  The quilt will be on display through the end of October.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Knowledge is Power: Students Learn About Farmworkers and Lake Apopka

They had heard about it; they had read about.  But, it wasn’t until Sunday, September 16, that they actually saw it, and seeing is so much more powerful.  

They were 15 students from Professor Leslie Poole’s Environmental Justice studies class at Rollins College who came to Apopka Sunday, September 16 to see for themselves what they had read about in a textbook.  Starting at the Farmworker Association of Florida office in Apopka, the class watched the video Out of the Muck.  The class learned about the environmental problems in Lake Apopka that plagued it for decades; fifty years of fertilizer and pesticide run-off from the North Shore farm lands had caused for the lake’s ecosystem to collapse, decimating the bass population, and leading to alligator reproductive anomalies and birth defects. It also caused one of the worst bird mortality incidents in the U.S.  

With a deeper understanding of the issue and the realities of Lake Apopka: the group traveled out to the former farmlands, passing a farmworker labor camp, a Superfund site along Jones Avenue, the fields of Long & Scott Farms, and stopped at the old Farm land to hear more about the injustices farmworkers endured in their work and their housing.   Magnolia Park was the next stop on the Toxic Tour, where the group was able to eat their lunch alongside the murky and algae-covered lake after having passed miles of new housing developments that contribute their own residential pollutants to the struggling lake.  

From there, the tour took the group past a large ornamental plant nursery where pesticides are regularly used.  They also passed two landfills, a medical waste incinerator, and an African American neighborhood that is sandwiched among them all.  Ending on an upbeat note, everyone visited the Apopka Campesinos’ Gardens to see the resistance work and solutions efforts of the FWAF community to empower farmworkers to work for health, sustainability, agroecology and food sovereignty.  Armed with this new knowledge, the students left for campus with ideas, thoughts and plans on how they contribute and make a positive difference in their communities.

On Wednesday, September 19th, environmental law students from Professor Nadia Ahmed’s class at Barry University Law School visited FWAF to learn more about the work of the organization.  The students to watched Los Naranjeros and to learned about the realities farmworkers face- including the impacts of pesticide exposure on their health.  The group hopes to return later for a Lake Apopka Toxic Tour.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Climate Change and Lake Apopka Farmworkers – what do they have in common?

The beautiful and magnificently, artistically painted bus rolled into our Apopka parking lot on Sunday, August 26th on a sunny Florida summer day.  Inside the bus was a team of experts, advocates and reporters from Climate Nexus, Nexus Media and Think Progress on the Freedom to Breathe Tour to highlight the dangers to and impacts of climate change and rising temperatures on vulnerable populations, including farmworkers, in the South.  And, Sunday was a perfect day for the crew to experience some of that heat first hand.

Embarking on a Lake Apopka Toxic Tour that included visiting the former Lake Apopka farm lands; Magnolia Park where you could see the lake itself covered in algae, making the water opaque; and returning to the Farmworker Association office, the team learned of the harsh realities farmworkers face every day – past and present – in order to provide food for the rest of the nation.  In addition to pesticide exposure, farmworkers increasingly today battle high temperatures, increasing annually due to climate change, and humidity that make heat stress and heat stroke a serious health concern related to short and long-term health consequences.

Read Nexus Media Article: Extreme Heat is Killing Farm 
Workers. The Government Doesn't have a Plan to Protect them.
Standing in the blazing sun on the old Duda Farms property, at an entrance to what is now the North Shore Restoration Area hiking trail, each team member felt the intense heat as they learned the history of the Lake Apopka farmworkers and imagined what conditions were like when the farms were in operation.  Unlike the farmworkers, however, everyone was able to then leave the hot environment and re-board the cool, air conditioned, comfortable bus, as they pulled away from the farms to continue the rest of the tour. 

The last stop on the tour was the most important. Former Lake Apopka farmworker and community leader, Linda Lee, met the team at her home, where everyone sat outside in the shade to try to stay cool, while Linda recounted her memories of working on the farms and the harsh working conditions she endured.  Speaking from the heart and recounting her stories and her experiences put a face to the facts.  Reading statistics and scientific studies is one thing, hearing the voices of the people – well, that is the true story, and one that everyone needs to hear.  For the crew, it was the most memorable part of their visit to Central Florida’s farmworker community, as they continued their travels around the state, crying the clarion call of climate change, rising temperatures, and the risk to human health of heat exposure.

Read Think Progress Article: Facing Rising temperatures 
and Pollution, farmworkers are being left behind by Florida lawmakers. 

Nexus Media Video / The invisible Ones.

If you are connected with a community organization or a school group and are interested in doing a toxic tour please contact

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Farmworker and Immigrant Justice Allies Experience Lake Apopka Toxic Tour; Dig Deep into Farmworker Issues and Injustices.

Powerful young people, working for justice, visited the Farmworker Association of Florida on August 1st to experience the Lake Apopka Toxic Tour. Starting at the FWAF office in Apopka with a background on the lake’s environmental problems and the showing of the video “Out of the Muck”, the tour became a journey through the past and into the present of Lake Apopka.

Community leader, Linda Lee, led the tour, which included friends and allies from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, the Youth and Young Adult (YAYA) network of the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM), Organize Florida and Claudette, our new Rollins College Intern.

Everyone was deeply moved by what they saw and learned. The tour unpacked the experiences of racism against Black and Hispanic farmworkers and the damage to mother earth by our chemically dependent system of agriculture.

Linda Lee’s story got deep into everyone’s heart, as she described the long hours of intense physical labor in Florida’s hot and humid environment, all the while exposed to toxic pesticides.

The group traveled to the former Lake Apopka farm lands, now an eco-tourism destination with no historical information about people and animals who lived and died there. The next stop on the tour was Magnolia Park at the Lake Apopka boat ramp to observe the condition of the lake today, 20 years after the closing of the farms in 1998.

Looping back to the FWAF office, the group saw the other sources of environmental contamination in the community - two landfills and a medical waste incinerator, right next to the playground in a very impoverished community – a case of environmental injustice in our local area.

Concluding the tour, hope came in the form of resistance and restoration in learning about the FWAF Campesinos’ Garden, where the group could talk about environmental and agricultural reforms and learn about food sovereignty and agroecology in action in the local community.

We are all connected with the earth, between farmworkers and the food we all eat. Our stories of resistance and resilience are connected, we are all related. Thank you to this powerful group for your courage and consciousness.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Freedom School Programming Launches in South Apopka Summer 2018

For two weeks, Hope Community Center's South campus was filled with laughter, muddy shoes and about 25 young kids participating in a new community initiative. South Apopka’s first Freedom School was held July 9th-20th which was organized by HCC’s Community Organizer Lashae Copeland and other local Apopka volunteers.

The history of Freedom School programing dates to the 1960s. The structured Freedom Schools program was developed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi. They were intended to counter the "sharecropper education" received by poor Americans. 

Focused on providing curriculum that helps to empower, educate and support youth in learning about afrocentric history and about their communities. These kids in South Apopka, aged 5-10 experienced a Wakanda themed two weeks as they learned about the real African Tribes from the Wakanda movie and were led by camp staff volunteers “tribal leaders” who consisted of Americorps volunteers, UCF college Students and local Apopka community members. Along with their Wakanda experience they learned about healthy eating, self love/empowerment, Agroecology, DNA, social activism, African Dance and much more!

As part of their environmental and community lesson, they visited the Farmworker Association to learn about the Lake Apopka Farmworkers. The kids were curious, attentive and very concerned about what happened to the Farmworkers as well as how people in their community are affected by the lake’s contamination today. The group drove past sites such as Duda Farms as they learned about what has happened to the environment around them. One of Linda Lee's grandchildren, participated in the program and was voted as a leader by his own peers!

Freedom School programming will likely continue in South Apopka during school breaks and holidays for community kids to continue learning about these important topics. 

LeMarquis and Cecilia complete an art project during their visit to Hannibal Square heritage center

Group picture with the Wakanda Salute

Students Yeferson, Kyron and Josue pictured learning about making "seed bombs" with Milkweed seeds 

For more information about how to get involved or support in any way please contact Lashae Copeland or at (407) 880-4673. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Gainesville Community Activist & Student Leaders Participate in Toxic Tour Experience

Students Travel from Gainesville to Learn about Environmental Justice 

Nkwanda Jah, noted leader and activist in the Gainesville community, brought her Environmental Ambassadors students to Apopka on Thursday, July 12 to experience the Lake Apopka Toxic Tour and to hear the heartfelt stories of community leader, Linda Lee. The Environmental Ambassadors program has given young high school students in Gainesville incredible opportunities to see, learn about and experience the environment and issues affecting their environment, and the Toxic Tour has been an exciting and eye-opening field trip as part of their overall experience for the past several years. Seven students, two adult leaders, and two other volunteers/supporters joined the toxic tour on a hot Florida summer day, visiting the old Duda Farms properties and driving past a small labor camp and a Superfund site. Standing in the relentless sun, at the entrance to the Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Area hiking/biking trail, the students thought about just how hard it would be to be working in the fields and greenhouses under such high temperatures and humidity, as they loaded into the air conditioned van to drive to the next location.
Asking insightful questions and learning about environmental and racial injustices, the students were captivated by Linda Lee, who demonstrated to them the orange picking sack and talked about the dangers and hazards orange pickers have in order to harvest the fruit we take for granted every day. While the tour was cut short by mechanical problems with the van, the students are planning to read Fed Up, to get a deeper insight into the reality of farmworkers who fed America for generations. 
Nkwanda Jah

If you are connected with a community organization or a school group and are interested in doing a toxic tour please contact