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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lake Apopka Presentation at AHEC Health Care Careers Camp

On Monday, June 22nd, a group of volunteers from the Farmworker Association of Florida traveled to UCF's school of Health and Public Affairs to present to a wonderful group of high school students participating in a health care careers camp. The camp is organized every year by the Central Florida Area Health Education Center (or AHEC) and this is the second year they've invited us to share the stories of Lake Apopka and farmworkers throughout the state.
Campers and FWAF volunteers pose for a picture.

FWAF staff started the night off with a moving presentation meant to get the kids thinking about where their food comes from and how it is produced. Long time volunteer and friend of FWAF, Sarah Downs, presented on the history of Lake Apopka, its muck farms and its farmworkers. Because of the audience, the presentation was slightly tailored and an emphasis put on discussing the health implications of farmwork and prolonged exposure to pesticides. Students broke out into their special groups--Cheetoh Girls + 1, Silver Surfers, Green Goblins, and Banana Splits--to read scenarios and answer probing questions.

Campers concentrate in their breakout discussion groups.

The Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial quilts (though not there in person) and the video "Out of the Muck" put a human face on the issues we were discussing. Volunteers Dustin Baetz and Pia Desangles then talked and led a discussion about the benefits of sustainable agriculture. The students were engaged, curious, and truly impacted by the presentation. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Lake Apopka Presentation at Seminole State College, Minus One Farmworker

On Tuesday, June 2nd, about 30 students braved the pouring rain to attend their English class at Seminole State College. Invited by Prof. Ann Riecken were Jeannie Economos, volunteer Bekah Torcasso Sanchez and Fed Up author Dale Slongwhite to present the history of the Lake Apopka farms and the experiences of the people who worked there. 

Dale Slongwhite spoke about writing Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food and how the book, which compiles the oral histories of Lake Apopka farmworkers, came about. She also described the process of capturing, from the heart, people's stories and making them central to the narrative, de-centering her own experiences. Dale gave great advice on how to write for the purpose of discovery.

Jeannie looks on as Dale addresses the class.

Jeannie Economos of FWAF educated the class about the history of Lake Apopka and the lack of labor protections for farmworkers and domestic laborers. FWAF staff spoke for about 20 minutes about the history of the muck farms, as the students watched a short film "Out of the Muck" documenting the environmental injustices facing Lake Apopka farm-working communities here in Central Florida. The students loved learning about local history, asked penetrating questions, and many expressed a desire to get involved with the Farmworker Association!

Notably absent from this week's talk, however, was longtime FWAF community leader, Linda Lee, who recently lived through a tragic loss when she lost her granddaughter, Chrysantheam Ashley, to Lupus. In the past year and a half, Linda also lost her daughter to Lupus, an auto-immune disorder. A month and half ago Linda lost her older sister. Linda herself has Lupus. Linda and her sister both worked on the muck farms for decades until they closed down almost 20 years ago. Recent studies have shown links between pesticides and Lupus. You may have met Linda on one of the many Toxic Tours she helped guide around Lake Apopka or recognize her from this blog. It is truly the bravery of folks like Linda and her family, in the face of these trials, that exemplify the urgency to show support for change in farmworker rights, legally, economically and socially. These injustices must end!

Linda addresses a legislative committee in Tallahassee. 
Apart from an extended family reeling from the loss, Chrys leaves behind three young boys--who Linda will be taking care of since their mother has passed away. Linda was saving up to get a new roof for her tiny house, but now all those savings are going towards the funeral and her great-grandchildren. Please consider donating to the GoFundMe account created by the family to help them pay for her outstanding medical costs and to pay for the funeral and burial.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Lake Apopka Scientist Speaks on Alligator Studies at Pesticide Forum in Orlando

Dr. Lou Gillette pioneered research into endocrine-disrupting pesticides with his study on Lake Apopka alligators' reproductive systems, and his keynote address goes into detail about what his findings were, what they mean for the alligators and possible consequences for the Lake Apopka farmworkers who were also exposed for years to persistent pesticides.

Thanks to longtime Progressive News Network Radio host and Farmworker Association of Florida supporter Rick Spisak, who recorded each day's keynote speaker and has shared them on his websiteEvaggelos Vallianatos gave a passionate keynote addressing the basics of why pesticides are harmful to our health and environment, as well as exploring the reasons that regulatory agencies and other actors seem powerless to stop the industry from using them. 

Dr. Tyrone Hayes closed the Forum with a powerful keynote presentation exploring his research into pesticides and frogs and exploring the tremendous push back and persecution he suffered because of it. These outstanding speakers, researchers and heroes in the work to protect health, wildlife and the environment were truly inspirational and motivational!  They imparted to everyone the incredible importance of pursuing research and banning the use of these toxic chemicals, and now you can hear them too by checking out these links! 

Linda Lee and Geraldean Matthew stand with the Blue Quilt. 

And, the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Exhibit at the Orange County Regional History Center completed its multi-month exhibition in Orlando last week.  The Quilts were seen by hundreds of visitors to the museum - a source of great pride for the community!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Evaggelos Vallianatos Reflects on His Toxic Tour Experience

Writes Passionate Piece Decrying the Injustices of the Lake Apopka Farms, Industrial Agriculture

Photo of farms near Lake Apopka taken by Mr. Vallianatos on the Toxic tour.
Our new friend, Evaggelos Vallianatos, recently opened up the 33rd Annual National Pesticide Forum that we co-hosted for Beyond Pesticides with his Pesticides 101 lecture. In it he explains why pesticides are terrible for farmworkers, for everyone else, and for the planet and why we still use them. He's worked tirelessly for more than 30 years now to create regulations that better protect farmworkers and the environment so he should know. His 2014 book, Poison Spring, exposes the shocking corruption and devastating apathy which informs the Environmental Protection Agency's policies regarding pesticides and farmworker safety.

Vallianatos (center) poses for a picture with Dr. Tyrone Hayes (left) and Marty Mesh (right) of Florida Organic Growers during the National Pesticide Forum. 

As part of a group of conference participants, Mr. Vallianatos got to partake in the extended version of our Toxic Tour we wrote about here.  And yesterday, he published a powerful piece on Truth-Out.org reflecting on the injustices of the industrial agriculture of Central Florida called Lake Apopka: Ecocide, Rural Oligarchy, and Slavery. In it he connects the tragedy of Lake Apopka and its farmworkers to the larger issues with our food system and he ends it with a passionate plea not just to beef up Worker Protection Standards, but to actually provide farmworkers with land so that they can grow our food in humane and sustainable ways. Please read it and share it on your social networks.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lake Apopka Farmworkers Visit Their Quilts at the Orlando Regional History Center

Lake Apopka farmworkers Linda Lee, Betty Dubose, Geraldean Matthew, and Mary Ann Robinson, along with three youth from the community and Rollins College volunteer, Dustin Baetz, visited the powerful "And, Still We Rise" exhibit this past Sunday, April 26th at the Orange County Regional History Center in downtown Orlando. The exhibit is a collection of some 70 hand-made quilts by African American Quiltmakers on the themes of the African American experience in America from slavery to the present, including a quilt in honor of the Tuskegee (birthplace of Betty Dubose) airmen and of Congresswomen Shirley Chisholm, among many others.  
Linda Lee and Gereldean Matthew talk to onlookers about their quilt.
The highlight for the group was to see the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts - both the Red Quilt and the Blue Quilt - along with the quilt brochures - on display in a room adjacent to the main exhibit and alongside an exhibit on the local history of African Americans in neighborhood communities of Orange County. The women were proud to see their quilts on display in conjunction with this noteworthy new and stunning exhibit of quilts that made Orlando its first stop in its scheduled nationwide tour. May 2nd is the final day of the exhibit and the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts will be looking for new venues in Florida to bring their message and their display.

Linda Lee, Betty Dubose, and volunteer Dustin Baetz at the exhibit. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Toxic Tour Takes a Detour

Concludes in Visit to Organic Citrus Farm
On Friday, April 17th, 2015, participants of the 33rd Annual National Pesticide Forum got to participate in an extended version of our usual Toxic Tours around Lake Apopka! The group went on a guided bus tour of Lake Apopka (via Magnolia Park in Apopka), what remains of the North Shore muck farms, and ended the day with a tour of Uncle Matt's Organic orange grove to learn about the benefits and challenges of growing organically. The tour was led by former Lake Apopka farmworker Linda Lee, farmworker and organizer Miguel Zelaya, and Coordinator of Pesticide Health and Safety Project, Jeannie Economos. 


Above, Linda Lee and one of the tour participants pose for a snapshot. Participants file back onto the bus after exploring what's left of the Lake Apopka farms


A huge thank you to everyone that came out on the Tour and participated in the Forum!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

World-Renowned Scientists to Speak at Pesticide Forum in Orlando


The Farmworker Association of Florida is very proud to co-host the 33rd Annual National Pesticide Forum with Beyond Pesticides and other partners in Orlando. One of the many amazing guests and speakers, Dr. Lou Guillette, was one of the first scientists to link pesticides to endocrine disruption and conducted his research with alligators in Lake Apopka. Many of the participants will be taking a Toxic Tour around the lake Friday afternoon, before the official start of the event. For more information or to register go to www.beyondpesticides.org/forum.