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Friday, January 16, 2015

Fed Up Talk and Toxic Tour with the Adventist Forum

The weekend of January 10-11, the Adventist Forum of Orlando brought over 100 members, eager to hear the stories of the farmworkers in Apopka, together for our most recent discussion of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt project and the book Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Food. After a brief introduction and short reading by author Dale Slongwhite, former Lake Apopka farmworker Linda Lee told the audience about her family's history as farmworkers, originally coming to Apopka from north Florida and finding work in the vegetable fields on the north shore of the lake. 

She described the harsh work conditions, extremely low pay, and oppressive experience of working on a mule train packaging sweet corn. 

For many in the audience this may be one of the first moments of true reflection on the legacy of slavery in American agriculture in the South. Many members of the audience were moved by the quilt squares memorializing the lives of now deceased farmworkers whose work fed a nation for decades. Linda went on to describe the harsh conditions many orange picker's face, having to carry 90lb bags of oranges up and down tall ladders, leaned precariously against trees. 

Both Linda Lee, and former farmworker, Betty Dubose described the long-term effects pesticide exposure has had on their lives and the lives of many in the farm worker community. During the Q&A session at the end of the talk, many asked poignant questions about how to support increasing the awareness and knowledge about the relationship between toxic exposure and devastating health conditions, like Lupus, inter-generational mental health problems, lung problems and other forms of organ failure. 

Moved to learn more, about 30 participants of Saturday's talk joined us again Sunday afternoon for a toxic tour of the area, where they saw first hand the sources of environmental contamination in the community.  . Thanks to the Adventist Forum organizers and members for engaging with the Farmworker Association of Florida to bring this issue to the attention of the broader community and Forum participants.  Together, we are stronger and awareness is key!

Members of the Forum study a map of the muck farms while standing quite near the north shore of Lake Apopka. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Loyola Students Immersion Experience in Apopka

We are starting out 2015 at the Farmworker Association of Florida with a lot of commitment and enthusiasm! This week, a group of students from Loyola University visited the FWAF Apopka office as a part of an immersion project with the Hope Community Center. The students and staff are from a wide variety of states, such as Connecticut, New York, Maryland and even Puerto Rico. 

With the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts on display, the students participated in a presentation about the reality of farmworkers in Florida.  During their visit, they learned about the injustices farmworkers face as a part of the legacy of slavery here in the United States, particularly the terrible working conditions for many migrant workers brought here as a part of the H-2A guestworker program.  They watched a short video called “Los Naranajeros” about the working conditions of orange pickers.  The film was produced a few years ago by a group of Harvard Law School students in partnership with our Immokalee office. The video was followed by a great discussion of how the students can avoid purchasing fruits and vegetables produced by workers facing exploitation and exposure to toxic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. We also encouraged them to read more about the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15".

Jeannie Economos demonstrates how to carry an orange picking back. 
These typically hold about 90lbs worth of oranges.

The students then learned more about the history of Lake Apopka and the work Dr. Louis Guillette  produced to bring scientific attention to the harmful effects of DDT on human and wildlife. The effects of DDT on wildlife was first brought to Dr. Guillette's attention as he began to notice abnormalities in the development of alligators in Lake Apopka and established the idea that chemicals like DDT can have harmful effects on life because they are neuro-endocrine disrupters. Basically, this means that the chemicals target the nervous and hormonal system of the body and can lead to life threatening illnesses.

Jeannie Economos and Americorp Volunteer Coordinator, Pia Desangles help the students understand the history of Lake Apopka visually.

Since we didn't want the students to leave too depressed from our discussion, we ended our talk with a description of how indigenous farming techniques, like agroecological practices, local organizations like ours, and global farmworker social movements like La Via Campesina help promote positive change for our communities. Afterall, the new food movements are great but truly good foods must be produced with justice for workers!

Sociology Graduate Student and Volunteer, Bekah Torcasso, discusses La Via Campesina.

After our talk we posed for a group photo in front of the Apopka office, chanting "si se puede!"

Thank you Sister Ann Kendrick and the Hope Center for bringing such wonderful guests to learn and share in our mission to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities to respond to and gain control over the social, political, workplace, economic, health and environmental justice issues that impact our lives!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

You Can Help FWAF Purchase New Quilt Stands

From Gainesville to Orlando, the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts have brought the stories of the Lake Apopka farmworkers to more than a dozen venues this year.  Now, the Farmworker Association of Florida needs your help so that we can continue spreading the quilts’ message throughout Florida.  During their many travels, the quilt stands have suffered some wear and tear, and we hope to replace them a with stronger, sturdier stand.  Our goal is to raise $400 to buy new, more durable stands by January 1, 2015.

You can help the quilts continue sharing their message and the stories of the farmworkers to others around the state.  Please make a tax-deductible contribution through the PayPal link below, and email us at to earmark your donation for the quilt stands.  Or, send a check payable to the Farmworker Association of Florida to 1264 Apopka Blvd., Apopka, FL 32703 with “quilt stands” in the memo line.  With your generosity, we look forward to displaying the quilts at book signings, universities, and community events for many years to come!

Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Quilts Celebrated at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Orlando

Both the Red and Blue Quilts were on display at the monthly Common Read meeting at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Orlando on Saturday, November 15. Dale Finley Slongwhite’s Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Food, which chronicles the oral histories of Lake Apopka farmworkers, was the Common Read selection for November. 

Slongwhite, former Lake Apopka farmworkers Betty Dubose, Geraldean Matthew and Linda Lee, and FWAF staff presented to about 30 congregants on the social, ecological, and labor history of Lake Apopka.  In addition, volunteer and artist Sarah Downs, who was instrumental in working with Linda Lee and the farmworkers in the quilt-making process, spoke movingly about her experience with presenting a quilt square to former farmworker, Johnnie Mae, of Johnnie's deceased daughter.  Everyone in the room was moved by the stories. The Quilts, the book, and the people who made them possible combined to make this an informative and consciousness-raising event.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Quilts and Fed Up at Seminole State College

On Wednesday, November 12th, both the Red and Blue Quilts were on display at Seminole State College. Former farmworker Linda Lee, Fed Up author Dale Slongwhite, and FWAF staff presented to a group of 66 students the history of Lake Apopka farms and the experiences of the people who worked there. Invited by Prof. Ann Riecken, they presented in her English class, but the event was also attended by other students and SSC staff.

Former Lake Apopka farmworker, Linda Lee, tells students about some of her experiences.
Dale and Jeannie Economos of FWAF educate the class about the history of Lake Apopka.

Dale spoke for about 10 minutes about writing Fed Up and how the book, which compiles the oral histories of Apopka farmworkers, came about. FWAF staff spoke for about 10 minutes about the history of the muck farms, and Linda Lee spoke for about 10 minutes about her experiences working on the farms and coping with the health effects of pesticides.  Our largest audience to date, the students loved learning about local history, asked penetrating questions, and many expressed a desire to get involved with the Farmworker Association!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reflecting Florida Event at East End Market

On Sunday, October 19, thirteen authors gathered at East End Market in Orlando to present at an all-day event titled REFLECTING FLORIDA: HOW AGRICULTURE, ART & ACTIVISM SHAPE OUR STATE. Dale Slongwhite, author of Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Food, was one of the presenters. She brought both quilts and set up the red quilt close to the podium where it was visible during every presentation and in every photo taken of every presenter. She hung an informational quilt brochure to the pole of each quilt, and also had on display a poster with photos of six farmworkers. Approximately sixty people attended the event and many were touched by the stories of the farmworkers. They spoke to Dale afterwards and some purchased the book through Bookmark It, one of the sponsors of the event.

The day ended with a reception featuring Bill Belleville, a well-known writer and activist for Florida's water.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

World Food Week

In celebration of World Food Week, October 12th to 19th, the Quilts were busy again in raising awareness about the Lake Apopka farmworkers who fed America for decades! World Food Week is a time to celebrate food and those who make it possible for us to eat. The Red and Blue Quilts were on display in the lobby of the Olin Library at Rollins College in Winter Park from October 14th to 17th. This was a great opportunity to be seen by the Rollins community.

On Wednesday the 15th, students from the University of Central Florida went on the first Toxic Tour of the semester. Linda Lee and Farmworker Association staff led the tour of the places around Lake Apopka where farmworkers have labored to feed America despite exploitive conditions, pesticide exposure, and environmental injustice. That evening, Linda, a former farmworker who played a central role in creating the quilts, and Dale Slongwhite, who compiled the oral histories of the farmworkers in her book Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Food, joined Farmworker Association staff in a video showing of “Out of the Muck” and a panel discussion of the Quilts at Rollins College. It was a day rich in learning for everyone involved.