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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Speaking Up and Speaking Out at Lake Apopka Farmers Forum

Lake Apopka Farmworkers Tell Audience “I worked on Lake Apopka farms, too!”

         On April 27, just north of Apopka, the Zellwood Historical Society hosted an evening entitled “Zellwood Muck Farmers’ Forum,” to bring community members together to talk about memories of the farms on Lake Apopka and to share the stories of over 50 years of farming.  In a room filled with memorabilia  of the history of the Lake Apopka farms, participants gathered to hear from some of the founding families that owned and operated the vegetable farms that were created out of the rich muck soil on the north shore of Lake Apopka.  Exhibits included archival newspaper articles and photos of the farms since they began in the early 1940s, and included a model of a crop duster and other remnants of the prime years of these vastly productive farms.  The event was to commemorate close to 20 years since the closing of the farms on Lake Apopka, and included a panel of the farmers and farmer family members reminiscing about the relationships they had with the work, with the land and with each other.

What they were not expecting was that two former farmworkers – quilt maker, Linda Lee, and FWAF Board member, Betty Dubose – would be attending the gathering as well.  Amid a display that included a notice touting the safety of DDT and an article about farmers negotiating for lower farm land clean-up costs, Ms. Linda and Ms. Betty listened as the panel talked about the “good old days” on the farms.  As the speakers on the panel were closing the event for the night, Linda Lee stood up and said, “I worked on the farms on Lake Apopka, too.”  After insistence, the moderator passed the microphone to Ms. Linda who then shared her memories of being sprayed by pesticides and of workers not being notified when the farms were going to close.  

Taking courage from Ms. Linda’s strong stance, Betty Dubose took the microphone and told the surprised audience, “I worked on Lake Apopka farms for 27 years.”  She proceeded to talk about her babies who had been born with low-birth weight and of being exposed to pesticides while she worked in the vegetable crops.   While the moderator tried to soften the strong words of Ms. Linda and Ms. Betty by saying that they wanted to remember the good times on Lake Apopka, most of the audience applauded the courage and testimony of our two brave community leaders.  Though both had been hesitant to enter the building when they first arrived, both Ms. Linda and Ms. Betty were surrounded after the presentation by participants who asked questions and wanted to learn more about them and their stories.  They spoke from their hearts and they spoke for themselves and for all the other Lake Apopka farmworker community members who are no longer with us.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Toxic Farming or Sacred Farming" at Rollins College

On Wednesday, May 10, Dale Finley Slongwhite, Betty Dubose, and Paul Jacob presented a discussion at Rollins College detailing the history of farming practices in Central Florida and its impact on farmworkers and the land.

            Betty Dubose represented the Farmworker Association of Florida.  She told her own story about working in the fields. She described the impact of farmwork on herself, her family, and her community. She explained how her face was burned by chemicals because of her exposure to pesticides. These chemicals also affected her family ~ several of her children were born with low birth weights. Also, she knew many women who had  miscarriages and families that had lost babies to "crib death." 
  Slongwhite and Jacob read from books they have written and discussed together how farming in the Central Florida area has affected the land. Slongwhite is the author of Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Food. This book discusses the lives of farmworkers before and after changes in farmworking practices like the banning of DDT in 1972. Slongwhite recorded the stories of African American farmworkers ~ tales of health problems suspected to be due to the chemicals used in farming, and how these problems were ignored by the state and federal government. Slongwhite also discussed her own activism since writing the book, telling of her travels throughout Florida giving lectures to colleges, high schools, at conferences, and more. She explained how audience members could become active themselves to protect farmworkers and the land. 


            Paul Jacob, known as "Jake," is the author of Blue Collar Nomad: The Literary Reflections of a Grassroots Pilgrim. His book emphasizes the connection between people and land through telling the story of his many years spent traveling the United States, living off the land. He recalled  an experience on an island in British Columbia when he restored a grove of fruit trees by being perceptive to the spiritual connection between those trees and himself. Jake believes that every living being on Earth has a right to its own existence, and that humans are not at the top of any hierarchy. Humans, Jake asserts, should not take advantage of other beings by polluting and abusing the Earth with pesticides and chemicals.
            The discussion at Rollins went very well, according to Slongwhite. The audience included 35 people and was active in asking questions. Both Slongwhite and Jake sold copies of their books ~ Jake also sold posters with 100% of the profits going to the Farmworker Association.
            Together, Slongwhite, Dubose, and Jacob described the total effects of farming practices and the history of toxic farming in Central Florida. This history has been characterized by racism, prejudice, and uncaring treatment by agro-businesses of the land and its workers. The conversation at Rollins College worked to bring attention to this history and prevent, through awareness, the repetition of history.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quilts Grace the Halls of Orlando City Hall in Special Exhibit on the
Area’s Agricultural History

We are so very honored to have had our Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts be such an important part of the recent exhibition at the Orlando City Hall Terrace Gallery. The exhibit’s title, In the Eyes of the Hungry, was taken from John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath which depicts the struggle facing farmworkers in the ever changing agricultural and economic landscape. The quilts are a tribute to the lives of farmworkers lost, and whose health was compromised due to the terrible and dangerous conditions while harvesting crops.

The exhibition featured pieces that reflect Florida’s Agricultural History. Quotes from The Grapes of Wrath graced some pieces in the show which connected the hardship and continuous adjustments taken by farmworkers from both past and present.  As Benjamin Gallagher from Artborne magazine described, “The show allows the viewer a glimpse into these plights and a chance to understand a history that might not otherwise be told.”

The quilts continue to keep the legacy of the former Lake Apopka farmworkers alive and help to tell the story of the people who fed America for generations. 

You can read the article about the exhibit here: 

Some photos of the exhibit:  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Seminole State College Service Learning Day

Seminole State College Service Learning Day 

The Farmworker Association of Florida was thrilled to host a group of service learning students from Seminole State College for a full day of service learning at our Apopka office. The students began their day at our Apopka office before heading off to work in a local plant nursery for the morning. The students got a taste of the physical and demanding nature of farm labor. 

The group headed back to the Apopka office for a quick lunch break and some background information about Lake Apopka before heading off on their "toxic tour". The students made numerous stops along their narrated journey along Lake Apopka and the surrounding area. Their stops included the Lake Apopka shoreline where they could see the condition of the lake firsthand. While the Lake Apopka Toxic Tour can be a lot to absorb in one day, the students left with a deeper understanding of the environmental racism that is so deeply embedded in this landscape. The future of systemic change of the United States agricultural system is in their hands, FWAF is dedicated to spreading awareness throughout the next generation. So that they can continue working towards environmental and agricultural reforms, and speak out against these injustices.   

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Toxic Tours Make an Impact; Open Eyes, Minds and Hearts

Interest in the Lake Apopka Toxic Tours and the issues facing farmworkers is increasing!  More and more people are learning about agriculture’s impact on our health and our land, water and air.  The farmworkers on Lake Apopka have an important story to tell that everyone needs to hear.  They want their legacy to be kept alive for future generations.  The Quilts and the Toxic Tours are ways to accomplish that and to capture a history that would otherwise be forgotten.

On February 11, a group that included members of the Labor Justice Subcommittee of the Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force and Bread for the World completed a Lake Apopka Toxic Tour, during which the participants asked probing questions and looked for intersections with their work and experiences.  The discussion was energizing and everyone was amazed to learn about the conditions and realities that exist for farmworkers in their community.  There was general agreement that the Toxic Tour was just the beginning of looking for more ways to work together and to collaborate.  The Farmworker Association participates as a member on the Labor Justice Subcommittee of GOHTTF.

Then, on March 10, a dynamic group of law students from Florida State University Law School stopped in Apopka for a Lake Apopka Toxic Tour on their way to Fort Pierce, Florida to do outreach to farmworkers about the workers’ legal rights.  These impassioned, interested and energized law students were deeply moved by what they saw and learned about Lake Apopka, about conditions for farmworkers historically and today, and about the impacts of industrial agriculture on people and the environment.  But, they were most deeply moved at the last stop on the tour – a visit to former Lake Apopka farmworker Linda Lee at her home in South Apopka.  Talking honestly and frankly about her life, surrounded by her grandchildren and great grandchildren, Linda endeared herself to everyone and the students left with their hearts touched and with tears in their eyes.  No doubt they had some deep discussions together as they later drove south to their destination.

Toxic Tours have an impact on those who experience them.  No one can walk away after a toxic tour without having new questions to think about and new eyes to see the world with.  Farmworkers have a lot to teach us, if we open our eyes, our minds and our hearts. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Seminole State College Students Win Top Honors for Poster on Lake Apopka Farmworkers

Congratulations and thank you to Laura Elisa Mendez Castro and to Rodrigo Alcala for their work on the Lake Apopka farmworkers and Lupus and the effects of pesticide exposure.  We are grateful for their work on this project and for raising awareness about the issue of the health of the Lake Apopka farmworkers.  The National Council for Science and the Environment 17th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy and the Environment was held in D.C. on January 23-26, where Mendez Castro and Alcala presented their poster and received their honors.  For caring, for sharing, for raising awareness and for bringing attention to this important issue, we want to applaud both students for their work and their accomplishments! 

Read More Here!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Environmental Justice and Anthropology Classes at Rollins College go on a Lake Apopka Toxic Tour

Environmental Justice and Anthropology Classes at
Rollins College go on a Lake Apopka Toxic Tour

For more than 10 years, the Farmworker Association of Florida has had a relationship with students and professors at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, about 14 miles away from our Apopka office, and the relationship just continues to grow each year.

On Sunday, February 5th, students from Professor Leslie Poole’s Environmental Justice class spent a morning and early afternoon learning about the environmental and health issues affecting the former farmworkers and current community members around Florida’s most contaminated large lake – Lake Apopka. They also learned about the systemic problems of our current agricultural system and policies, and how that has impacted the lives of real people and families for decades and even generations. Stopping at Magnolia Park for lunch gave the students an opportunity to see just how little progress has been made in cleaning up Lake Apopka, in spite of the farms having been closed for more than 18 years. The experience helped students put names, faces and places on what they were learning in their text books about environmental racism.

Then, on February 18, students from the anthropology classes of Professors Rachel Newcomb and Nolan Kline participated in a one day “immersion” project, in which they spent the morning working in a local flower and foliage nursery, working alongside the largely Hispanic workers, for a small taste of what it is like to be an agricultural worker in Central Florida. After a lunch break back at the FWAF office, they embarked on the Lake Apopka Toxic Tour, accompanied by former Lake Apopka farmworker and community activist, Linda Lee. While the information was a lot to absorb in one day, the experience was important for giving context and depth to their classroom and reading studies.

Our appreciation to such visionary and engaged professors at Rollins in offering to ‘get their students out of the classroom’ and to have these powerful and meaningful experiences that enhance their learning and provide insights into how to apply what they are learning. The future is in their hands.