Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Victoria Burello's Project on the History of Lake Apopka

University of Central Florida graduating senior, Victoria Burello, completed her class project on the history of Lake Apopka, to raise awareness about the issue.  As she writes:

" In my freshman year, my Women's Studies course taught me about the local history of Apopka, and of the complicated history of the farmworkers' suffering.  Now in my senior year, I am tasked with making small documentary shorts about the Central Florida community, and how these local issues have large scale implications."

Lake Apopka today is the most polluted large lake in the state. But the region had a long history before this land became what is now called Florida.  The lake and the vast lands surrounding it once served the Timucua and Seminole Indian tribes, where fish and game could be found in abundance.

In the days of colonial expansion, Lake Apopka became an excellent fishing spot for not only the tribes, but also for the white settlers who had come and occupied the territories, displacing the indigenous peoples.

Moving to more recent times, in the 1960s, what had once been  a flourishing lake known worldwide for its magnificent bass fishing, started a long decline that led to the Lake Apopka eventually becoming a "dead lake." The fertilizer and pesticide run-off from the muck farms caused massive algae blooms that led to a collapse of the lake's ecosystem.  

Exacerbating the environmental contamination of the lake was the toxic chemical spill by the Tower Chemical Company, which had improperly disposed of the harmful pesticide, DDE (Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene). This harmful chemical is not only a pesticide but an endocrine disrupting chemical- that has been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.

Victoria recounts her experience with learning about Lake Apopka.  You can watch her video and visit her website to learn more about the history of Lake Apopka and the farmworkers who worked the vegetable farms on the lake. 
To visit Victoria's website and learn more about Lake Apopka, click here to check out the website, and click here to watch a video.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Southern Black Women & Agricultural Labor: A Round Table Discussion

Former farmworker and community organizer, Geraldean Matthews (deceased) and Betty Dubois, courtesy of FWAF 

When we hear the word "farmworker," we often picture a person fleeing their war filled Central or South American country. We picture an undocumented person, facing wage theft and poor working conditions but too afraid to stand against their employer for fear of termination and deportation. But an article in Activist History, posits that we often confuse that U.S. history with the U.S. history of the original agriculturalists- the black farmworkers and their descendants. Postdoctoral Associate at the University of Florida, Diedre Houchen and Executive Director of the Black/Land Project, Mistinguette Smith illustrate the painful and harsh reality of seven former Lake Apopka farmworker women. Houchen and Smith state that, 

"In 1941, the Florida legislature subsidized drainage and dikes to open nineteen thousand acres of rich lake-bottom land, known as muck, to local farmers. “Almost overnight”, those farms began shipping fruits and vegetables across the county. In the 1970s, the EPA noted phosphorus contamination of the lake and the surrounding farms. By the 1990s it was revealed that the muck farms, and the agricultural workers who tended them, had been exposed to persistent organic pollutants, including aerial sprays of DDT and Difocol."

Studies and restoration efforts of the health of wildlife were conducted but not one penny was provided to the 2,500 farmworkers and their families whose health was affected by the harmful pesticide residue.  But, in her article, Dr. Houchen exposes a different side of the lives of the former Lake Apopka farmworkers. She uplifts the joy, agency, comraderie, sense of self and sense of strength, independence and pride in their work that the women described. The women recounted their 50 years of experience; the skills and quickness they needed in order to cultivate and harvest crops for their per-box payment. Linda Lee (photo on right), one of the women at the round table at the Farmworker Association where Professor Houchen listened to and recorded their stories, spoke of her finesse when plucking chickens; making sure she removed every single feather. The former farmworkers also recounted that in Lake Apopka, land ownership was far less important than obtaining the  extensive knowledge of how to cultivate, tend and harvest crops. When retelling the narrative of Black women in the agricultural environment, it is told by everyone but the Black women themselves. During the Jim Crow era, Black women's physical strength was viewed, as the article describes it, "mule-like; unskilled but persistent." But Black women saw the strength of women's bodies as a "source of power, pleasure and joy." To read the full article, click here.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Honored Guest, Linda Lee, visits Rollins College for Presentation on Motherhood & Social Justice!

Gabbie Buendia (second from right) researched the role of mothers in the American environmental justice movement. Buendia interviewed five women from Florida to Michigan. Here she is with Linda Lee (third from left), an Apopka farmworker, Lee’s grandchildren, and Luwanna Gelzer (third from right), a Parramore resident. (Photo by Curtis Shaffer)

This past Tuesday former farmworker and community advocate, Linda Lee visited Rollins College as an honored guest for a presentation by senior environmental studies student, Gabbie Buendia. Gabbie is studying both Environmental Studies and Women's Studies. She presented the findings of her senior thesis project, which focused on the 'Impact of Mothers on the American Environmental Justice Movement.' By looking both at historical examples and current case studies, the thesis project highlighted how vital the skills and experiences of motherhood are to recognizing environmental inequality and fighting for better conditions. Linda was one of five women interviewed for the project and the stories she shared about herself, her fellow farmworkers, and the Lake Apopka Memorial Quilt are the central focus of one of the chapters. Gabbie feels honored to be able to include Ms. Lee's story and work in the project. She also wanted to emphasize how important it is that stories of environmental injustice be passed along through generations, just as Linda has promoted through the Memorial Quilt. To read the full article of Gabbie's presentation, please click here.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Florida State University Visit Apopka!

On March 15-18, students from Florida State University completed their service learning trip with FWAF! The students got to go on a toxic tour where they gained a deeper understanding of the history of the black farmworkers of Lake Apopka, how pesticides affected the communities' health, and how it is affecting migrant and seasonal farmworkers now.  The students also went to the community garden to learn why it exists within the community and how members are reclaiming their lands in the name of justice. One student said:

"Despite living in Orlando for almost twelve years, I had never heard about the environmental issues affecting Lake Apopka.  Furthermore, I did not know about the many issues being faced by the hardworking farmworker community.  I am incredibly grateful for my time with the Farmworker Association of Florida, and look forward to joining their fight for a fair and just system!"- Stephanie Roman Caban

FSU at our community garden 

Cultivating alongside community members

Serving at Green Masters nursery 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Linda Lee and Jeannie Economos visit Rollins College for Farmworker Awareness Week

On Monday March 25, we kicked off Farmworker Awareness Week with a moving presentation about Farmworker rights and the Lake Apopka Memorial Quilt from Linda Lee and Jeannie Economos in SunTrust Auditorium at Rollins College. Students from a variety of different classes and student organizations, as well as people from the community, came out to participate in the great event! This event was part of a week-long Farmworker Awareness Week campaign at Rollins organized by Mira Lines, the Global Health intern for the FWAF.

Linda, Mira, and Jeannie
Campaigning for FWAF outside the Rollins dining hall

Jeannie and Linda giving their presentation

Global Health Intern, Mira, introducing Linda to the students

Monday, March 25, 2019

UCF Students Create Quilt Squares

Last week, Anne Bubriski, a professor at the University of Central Florida in the Department of Women and Gender Studies, had her class read the book Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Foods.  The students then got to meet both the author of the book, Dale Slongwhite and community leader and former farmworker, Linda Lee, in a moving and powerful classroom session. 

Then, on March 21st, the class engaged in an activity expressing their reflections on what they learned in a workshop, led by Sarah Downs - co-creator of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts - by making their own quilt squares.  Here is a reflection of the day by artist and leader, Sarah Downs: 

"The students gathered in the classroom and took seats at a table filled with supplies for making their own quilt squares. Professor Anne introduced me and I told the students a bit about my experience helping Linda gather stories from former muck farm workers. Then it was time for the students to make their own quilt squares. Had they been impressed with the information from the curriculum as well as from Dale and Linda’s presentations? Should I have explained more about the process of creating the quilts? Then I watched as these young folks dove into the materials and each created a unique, thoughtful, and often powerful image about farm workers. Wow-they got it! I need not have worried about them coming up with any individual, well thought out ideas and transferring them into succinct visual images on cloth. Job well done!"

Monday, March 11, 2019

Toxic Tour of Lake Apopka with FAMU Environmental Law Society Students!

Law students from FAMU Law School’s Environmental Law Society were joined by a volunteer from UCF environmental studies class and a Rollins College pre-practicum student for a Toxic Tour on March 2nd.  Visiting the former farmland and learning about the toxic contamination of the lands and water by organochlorine pesticides, driving past the Zellwood Superfund site, seeing a farmworker housing area, picnicking on the shore of Lake Apopka, and visiting Linda Lee at her home, the group learned much in 3 hours and left with much to ponder and with motivation to take action. Here are some reflections from David Duany, a Rollins College Master of Mental Health Counseling student, who participated in the first part of the tour:  

“The Toxic Tour of Lake Apopka is a true history lesson with a narrative that has not yet been completed. As water-dwelling and aquatic loving locals of the Orlando metropolitan area, my friends and I have been aware of the water toxicity issues regarding Lake Apopka for many years. We have only journeyed into Lake Apopka by boat to sight-see and never ventured into the waters to swim, fish, waterski, or wakeboard.
I knew the lake was contaminated, but I didn’t know why until learning about the decades worth of fertilizers and pesticides that would ebb and flow into the lake waters as they would let the water levels flood the north shoreline in the summer months.  Furthermore, the Toxic Tour provided eye-opening information pertaining to the issues which farmworkers experienced over decades of muck farming in the Apopka area.

Techniques for farming which date back to times before the industrialization of food systems are re-emerging.  A refocus to responsible farming needs to happen with greater and continual awareness, sharing knowledge of the benefits for using indigenous and modern organic practices and techniques that have lasted for many millennia across the world to grow food.”