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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Farmworker Memorial Blue Quilt on Display at A&H's Maitland Art Center

We at the Farmworker Association are very excited that the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Blue Quilt will be on display as part of “Culture Pop: Untold Stories” at the Art & History Museums Maitland Art Center. The exhibit will run July 15th through September 4th at 231 West Packwood Ave in Maitland, Florida. If you live in the Central Florida area, don’t miss this exhibit!

The art show is comprised of “Untold Stories which is made up of two exhibits that artistically depict the narratives of different populations. Inspired Storytelling: Tomengo’s Maitland Project A&H’s former Artist-in-Action Trent Tomengo presents a series of oil paintings inspired by photographs, artifacts and profiles of working-class residents of Maitland and its surroundings from the late 1800s and early 1900s.The African American Narrative : (Select works from the Polk Museum of Art) An exhibition recognizing noted contemporary African American artists working in the narrative tradition to address personal and historic themes. Pieces from the African American Narrative are on loan from the permanent collection of the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, which began in 1983 and now includes works by nationally and internationally recognized artists.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Future Medical Professionals
 Learn Lake Apopka History

         Many young people go into medicine with altruistic intentions, built on empathy for others and a desire to help people. The medical profession however, sometimes fails to help people who desperately need medical care. Farmworkers are an example of this failure, as so many doctors are not trained in occupational health and cannot correctly diagnose or treat farmworkers. With awareness of this issue, we are so happy to partner with Central Florida Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in their summer program that reaches across 9 counties and brings together high school students who are interested in the medical professions for a camp at UCF.

           The students have a chance to attend workshops, learn more about the medical field, and meet other students who share their interests. Jeannie Economos, Health and Safety Coordinator, Becky Wilson, AmeriCorps volunteer, and Dale Slongwhite, author of “Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food” were invited to present information about farmworkers to the group.  Before we met with the group of 20 students, they had a workshop on domestic or intimate partner violence. The camp focuses not only on the hard science of medicine but on the interwoven social issues medical professionals need to be aware of. We were so happy to bring awareness about farmworkers’ conditions to future medical professionals.

      To help students understand the realities farmworkers face, we chose to focus on the story of Lake Apopka. All the students live in surrounding Central Florida counties and are in proximity to the Lake which boasts two EPA recognized Superfund sites, the highest class of contamination. The students watched Geraldean Matthew, former Lake Apopka Muck Farmworker and community leader, discuss the harms to her health, family, community, and environment on film, because she is currently in the hospital. We know that if she was healthy enough she would be speaking to students herself, but her words carry power in person, and recorded. One student asked in awe “you know her?” referring to Geraldean.  Jeannie responded that she had known her for 20 years, and a wave of understanding spread across the student’s face as she saw that farmworkers were regular people, with friends who cared about them. It is much harder to dismiss someone when they are only one person removed from you.

            The students then broke up into four groups, each given a scenario centered on Lake Apopka. Questions like what their lives would look like without farmworkers, how many hands touch the food they eat before it gets to them, and others encourage students to put themselves in the shoes of farmworkers and understand their ties and ultimately what they owe to farmworkers. While only two hours of their time, this knowledge is something they will hopefully carry forward in their future careers, and change the medical field for the better.

Volunteers plant 1,000 trees along Lake Apopka

Cherry Lake Tree Farm joined a cooperative effort with St. Johns River Water Management District, and Keep Lake Apopka Beautiful to plant 1, 000 two-year old Bald Cypress trees on the North Shore of Lake Apopka. Sixty volunteers in four teamsworked at three sites spanning two counties. Cherry Lake Tree Farm provided the trees.  Bald Cypress is considered a keystone species in regional wetland ecosystems, providing valuable habitat, particularly for birds. Until Saturday, Bald Cypress trees were notably absent from the Lake Apopka Restoration Area. The toxic history of Lake Apopka cannot be undone, but efforts like this to improve the ecosystem are so necessary.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Farmworker Memorial Quilts Featured in New Book!

We are so excited to be part of an incredible new book with Quilt Index!

The Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts project have a place in this extensive research work that culminated in the publication of the new Quilts and Human Rights book that has just been released. The long-awaited time has come, and we are delighted to share this news and information with all of you!

"Quilts and Human Rights offers a new understanding of the history of global human rights as seen through textiles of awareness and activism. Of all the textile forms linked to human rights activities, one form—the quilt—has proved an especially potent and popular form for individuals, working alone or as part of organized groups, to subversively or overtly act for human rights. Through a description of this activity over time and space, Quilts and Human Rights advances awareness of critical human rights issues: suffrage, race relations, civil wars, natural disasters, HIV/AIDs, and ethnic, sexual, and gender discrimination. Quilts and Human Rights pays tribute to the individuals who have used needle skills to prick the conscience and encourage action against human rights violations."

Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, is a South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, and wrote the forward for this new book!

Praise for the Book:  

“Beautifully written, with a venerable combination of straightforward expression and intellectual sophistication, Quilts and Human Rights successfully bridges the fields of women’s studies and visual arts with a brilliant survey of national and international human rights quilts.”—Carolyn L. Mazloomi, founder and director of the Women of Color Quilters Network

“Quilts and Human Rights tells superbly scaffolded stories about the powerful intersection of threats and threads.”—Patricia A. Turner, author of Crafted Lives: Stories and Studies of African American Quilters 

“This well-researched and important book sheds new light on the work of thousands of quilt artists who have used needle, thread, and cloth for advocacy, education, and reflection on human rights.”—Rev. Canon Mpho Tutu, executive director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lake Apopka Reaches Lake Nona

Jeannie Economos, the Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator for FWAF along with Dale Slongwhite, Author of “Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food” and Becky Wilson, AmeriCorps Volunteer, had the opportunity to speak with close to 130 junior year high school students at Lake Nona High School in Southeast Orlando, Florida. One of their incredible History teachers, Ms. Boujaber-Diederichs dedicated an entire class day to Lake Apopka Farmworkers. All seven periods of her students had a chance to learn about the history of pollution and environmental racism on Lake Apopka.  Jeannie shared her extensive knowledge of the pesticide pollution on the muck farms, and Dale added poignant voices of Farmworkers from her book, including Ms. Geraldean Matthews.  

Geraldean has been a leader for former Lake Apopka Farmworkers, and has been in the fields since she was a young girl. Now she is in the hospital, dealing with health complications likely caused by her many years of pesticide exposure. Her voice leaps off the page when Dale shares her words, and students were moved by her. In one class period, a student kindly suggested they make a card for Geraldean in the hospital. The suggestion manifested a beautiful, colorful card that many students decorated and signed. Jeannie delivered the card to Geraldean in the hospital and was moved to see how much it meant for Geraldean to receive a card from a group of kids that wanted to lift her spirits. We always enjoy sharing stories, knowledge, and the beautiful quilts, and it becomes even more meaningful when we get so very much in return. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Earth Day and Toxic Tour with SSC

 Seminole State College in Central Florida brought out two awesome groups to learn more about Lake Apopka and its history. The group from SSC’s Sanford campus spent the morning working in a local ornamental plant nursery and getting a feel for the demanding nature of farm labor.  They merged with Seminole State College’s Altamonte Springs Campus at our Apopka, FL office and got to meet one another before heading off for a narrated drive and many stops highlighting the agricultural heritage of Lake Apopka, and the environmental racism that is so embedded in the landscape. The students were deeply affected by what they saw, and we are grateful to raise awareness and empathy in youth of Central Florida.

 Every year Lake Eola in Orlando hosts an Earth Day festival where lots of environmentally minded vendors come together to celebrate and honor Mother Earth. We were very pleased to participate and display the beautiful red quilt at this year’s event.

 Passersby enjoyed the materials we shared and many even signed a petition to boycott Sakuma Berries (, because all workers deserve fair treatment and a living wage. The Sakuma Berries workers face systematic wage theft, poverty wages, hostile working conditions, and unattainable production standards.  We stand in solidarity with our Brother and Sister farmworkers around the country in seeking just working conditions.

We love sharing the continuity of farmworker history and issues faced by farmworkers today. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Quilts on the Move!

It’s been a whirlwind for the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Project lately!

First, Jeannie Economos, Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator, was featured on WPRK Radio, the official Rollins College Radio Station. Along with Notre Dame AmeriCorps Volunteer for the Farmworker Association, Becky Wilson, Jeannie shared the history of Lake Apopka farmworkers, and the legacy of pesticide contamination that affects the lives every day of people in the farmworker community. She also shared some of the ways that listeners to the program, “A Dialogue with VOICE,” can volunteer and get involved.  VOICE is a unique educational and service program that utilizes the special talents of older adult volunteers in Central Florida to address local community issues. It was an awesome opportunity for FWAF to connect with the work VOICE is doing, and to share the injustice faced by the former farmworkers of Lake Apopka with a wide audience in Winter Park, FL.

The story of Lake Apopka Farmworkers was also shared with the Democratic Black Caucus in Leesburg.  Linda Lee, former Lake Apopka muck farmworker and Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt maker shared with the group her personal history of loss on the shores of Lake Apopka. The group was moved by her story and learned a great deal about environmental racism, farm work, and pesticides.

A few days later, University of Florida and Florida State University law students stand on the shore of Lake Apopka, while learning about the effects pesticides have had on the lake and the people in the community. The students also learned about the history of pesticide exposure and abuse in the fields for farmworkers.  The students appreciated a local history lesson and engaged in interesting and deep discussions around the injustices faced in the community.

It’s been a busy time for the Lake Apopka Memorial Quilt Project, and we’ve been overjoyed to have so many diverse opportunities to share such important histories with the community.