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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lake Apopka Farmworkers Featured in New Project of University of Florida Masters Students

The Farmworker Health Initiative is a recently completed project created by three focused and dedicated University of Florida students who are committed to exposing the conditions of farmworkers’ exposure to toxic pesticides. Their video, “The Toxic Effect of Feeding America”, features former Lake Apopka farmworkers Linda Lee and Betty Dubose, as well as FWAF staff and community members and former owners of the Lake Apopka muck farms speaking of their own experiences and from their different perspectives. The students spent months doing research; conducting interviews; documenting their experiences; visiting the FWAF offices, as well as farm lands, nurseries and ferneries; and learning about the realities of chemical exposures experienced by those working in the fields to feed America. The result is a powerful narrative, supported by cited references, statistics, and supporting articles. This is a tremendous tribute to the farmworkers, as well as an incredible resource for anyone wanting to know more about this reality.

Thanks to Ambar, Laura and Darling for taking on and doing such a great job with this excellent and important project. Check it out, listen to the stories, learn more, and share with others. We will never rest in the struggle for Justice for Farmworkers.

Visit their website here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Environmental Ambassadors from Gainesville
Learn about Farmworkers and Lake Apopka

Six highly motivated high school youth from Gainesville traveled to Apopka on Friday, July 21, 2017 to learn about the environmental problems on Lake Apopka and the injustices faced by farmworkers.  Each summer, the Gainesville Cultural Arts Coalition hosts a group, led by local community activist Nkwanda Jah, of aspiring young people in several weeks of intense learning on environmental and community issues. Known as Environmental Ambassadors, their experiences include visiting a solar energy facility, a water treatment plant, a local worm farm, and, as they have done for several years in a row, a trip to Apopka to meet the Farmworker Association of Florida through a half day immersion into farmworker issues.  

Some heard the term “environmental racism” for the first time, learning what it means, while seeing first-hand an environmental justice community that is and has been exposed to pesticides on the farms along with contamination from landfills, a medical waste incinerator, a sewage treatment plant and more.   

Enviromental Enbassadors Learning hearing Ms. Linda's story
The highlight of the trip was the visit to the home of Ms. Linda Lee, the key quilter of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts.  Standing in her yard in the shade of her mango tree, with her great-grandsons around her, Ms. Lee shared the realities of her daily life working on the farms on Lake Apopka. 

  Watching the video “Out of the Muck” and even seeing pea-green Lake Apopka itself and the former Lake Apopka farm lands were not as powerful as Ms. Linda’s personal testimony and true life stories.  Everyone was hungry to hear more about her life even as they drove away.  One student commented that what stood out the most for her was when she learned that farmworkers are excluded from labor laws that protect most all other workers in the U.S.  They may look at food in the grocery store with a new appreciation after learning about farmworkers.

We thank Ms. Jah and the Environmental Ambassadors for taking a day to travel the two hours to and from Gainesville to learn about farmworkers and to share with the people in our community.  Through these exchanges, we can help change the world!


Thursday, July 6, 2017

SAFSF Conference Travels from Gainesville to Learn About Lake Apopka Farmworkers

Photograph by Joann Lo
Over forty people filled a full-size tour bus for an immersive trip from their cool, comfortable hotel in Gainesville, Florida to the hot and humid former farm lands on Lake Apopka, learning along the way from their FWAF tour guides about the historical and systemic issues underpinning the conditions experienced by farmworkers in the past and today. 

Attendees at the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders conference spent Wednesday, June 28th on field trips to nearby places of interest and relevance to their work and passions.  A social justice conscious group embarked on an all day tour, that included a look at Long and Scott Farms famous for Zellwood sweet corn, the former Duda Farms labor camp area that is now part of an eco-tourism trail, a Superfund site at the former Drum Chemical Company, and a sewage sludge fertilizer company across from the former farm lands.  With a stop for lunch at Magnolia Park, participants had an opportunity to walk on the dock to see the pea-green waters of Lake Apopka, and assess for themselves the water “quality” of the lake’s restoration.

Pointing out other environmental stressors in the community along the way – the two landfills, medical waste incinerator, and ornamental plant nurseries where pesticides are used – the group was guided to the local Apopka community health center for a presentation and questions and answer session. 

By far, the most powerful moment of the trip, however, was the visit to former farmworker, Linda Lee’s home, where Linda simply and clearly told her heartfelt stories of her experiences working in the vegetable fields of Lake Apopka, and Mireya Ledesma spoke of her life as a young daughter of a farmworker family from Mexico that traveled the seasons harvesting crops in the U.S.  Their personal testimonies are what filled the minds of everyone on the return trip to Gainesville, and gave everyone a deeper and fuller understanding of life for workers in U.S. agriculture. 

Our  special thanks to SAFSF for giving us the opportunity to share our community and our community members’ stories with everyone as part of this memorable and successful conference.    
Photograph by Kristen richardson-Frick

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.