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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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Eileen Fisher Supports Former Lake Apopka Farmworkers

In the Winter Park, FL shopping district of Park Ave, there was one window display that veered from the norm. Winter Park’s annual and iconic sidewalk art festival had families out in numbers. While they would typically peruse upscale clothing and products in between art displays , Eileen Fisher’s store front showed off something richer in value. The beautiful Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt was hanging in the Eileen Fisher display window, and the store generously donated ten percent of their sales from their Spring Celebration March 19th to the Farmworker Association of Florida.  Linda Lee, former Lake Apopka muck farmworker and Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt maker, had the chance to see the quilt she was instrumental in creating hanging in a store front to be admired.

Dale Slongwhite, author of Fed Up: the High Cost of Cheap Food, attended Eileen Fisher Winter Park’s Spring Celebration and sold copies of the book. The book preserves the stories of many Lake Apopka former farmworkers. These are oral histories that deserve to be remembered, and Ms. Slongwhite’s promotion of these personal interviews in the book is incredibly important. Pictured with Dale Slongwhite is Professor Riecken of Seminole State College, who invites Linda Lee to speak with her students every semester and is a true ally to former Lake Apopka former farmworkers, and the Farmworker Association of Florida.

 We cannot thank Eileen Fisher Winter Park enough! We greatly appreciate their support of the Quilt Project, our upcoming Women to Women Conference in Apopka, and the platform they provided for us to connect with Winter Park community members. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Students Forgo Spring Break’s Beaches for Apopka

Compared with the popular media conception of spring break in college, Apopka has very little to offer. However, a group of University of Florida students decided that spring break could be more than a boozy blur. They all opted out of more traditional spring breaks to join the Farmworker Association of Florida for 4 days.

The students learned the history of Lake Apopka, and took a toxic tour on the shores of the former muck farmland.  Students were humbled and surprised at what they heard. They had a chance to meet Linda Lee, former Lake Apopka farmworker and Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Maker.  That evening, the students created their own quilt squares to reflect on the experience they had learning about  Lake Apopka and the stories of the people who harvested the vegetable crops on the farms for decades.

While the students did soak up some sun, it was during their labor filled days community gardening. The team of Florida Alternative Break students worked in Apopka’s Billie Dean Garden and also in the Campesino-a-Campesino  garden in Pierson, Florida. The students built garden beds, turned compost, and learned from community members and FWAF staff about agroecology and organic gardening.

The final day of their “break” was spent in an Apopka Nursery. Their new knowledge was evident in how they prepared to enter the nursery. As students learn the dangers and hardships farmworkers face, they can begin to tangibly relate to the experience. When students were concerned about the large amount of pesticides used at the location, they covered up at the expense of being even hotter. While this was a single day in their lives, the experience will help them remember the people who live that day, only more difficult and stressful, every day. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Brethren Service Volunteers Learn About Lake Apopka

Headed off to places like Honduras and Japan, the Brethren Service Volunteers visit Apopka, Florida to learn from former Lake Apopka farmworkers. This unique team of volunteers is dedicated to service and each person commits to yearlong or two year periods of service, domestically and internationally.  As part of their orientation period, they took a Toxic Tour with the Farmworker Association of Florida. The group was remarkable not only in their grasp of food policy and environmental issues, but in their attention to the issues and their heart for the stories of the community. Brethren Service Volunteers were very touched to hear from Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Maker and former Lake Apopka muck farm worker, Linda Lee, who shared her personal experiences as a farmworker and the working conditions and history of African American farmworkers in the area.

BSV is a group “working towards peace and justice, and meeting the needs of humanity and the environment” and it “calls out for persons dedicated to service.” The Farmworker Association was very happy to exchange ideas and share experiences with these incredible young people. The stories they learned on Lake Apopka will impact their perspectives along their way, and will resonate in their future work with diverse communities in the U.S. and abroad. In fact, some will serve farmworker families in rural communities here in the United States. Others will travel to work with families in urban Ireland. Despite the variety  of their future service experiences, the lessons learned here will complement their own knowledge and enhance their ability to serve their communities.

The former farmworker community in South Apopka struggles for recognition, validation and sorely needed healthcare services, but they are not alone. They, like others facing environmental racism and lack of services based on class and race divides, are not alone in feeling forgotten and unappreciated. Yet, their continued strength and resilience are always an inspiration.
While Brethren Service Volunteers may not serve this community for their year of service, it is a form of service to listen deeply to someone else’s story. It is in the spirit of service to understand and examine an issue, and to take to heart the stories of real people. So we thank BVS for understanding the value of embracing new ideas, for challenging themselves and for opening their minds and hearts to new people, new places, and new ideas.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Growing Relationships: SSC and Lake Apopka

This was not Linda Lee’s first visit to Seminole State College, but it may have been her most difficult. Former Lake Apopka farmworker and Memorial Quilt quilt-maker, Linda suffers from several illnesses related to her decades long exposure to pesticides. Despite feeling ill and exhausted, her body in more pain than usual, Linda still rose early and spoke to students about her personal experiences and loss in Apopka. Her power and dedication to her community is inspiring to us all.

Seminole State College in Altamonte Springs, FL is less than 10 miles from the east shore of Lake Apopka, and yet many students will complete their college years with no idea of the injustices occurring in their own backyards. This fact is what drives Linda Lee and our other educators to continue nurturing our relationship with Seminole State College.  Visiting a class a single time is not enough, but as we continue to present to classes, more and more students take the message to heart and share it with their peers and families. 

Social Justice often grows slowly and the seeds Linda Lee and all of us plant need tending.

Dale Slongwhite, author of Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food and friend to the Farmworker Association got the students engaged during her portion of the presentation. She asked students to bend over as if they were picking crops for one minute. This one minute may be a tiny fraction of their day, but when Dale asked them to imagine spending an entire workday in this position, many students groaned and rubbed their backs in response. This small movement connects them to the physical nature of farmwork and connects them in a small way to la lucha, the farmworker struggle. As we continue to tend the seeds we plant with our community partners, we are continuously thankful for the dedication of Linda Lee and the enthusiasm and engagement we get from students. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Building Relationships: Apopka and Loyola

Loyola University in Maryland has been building an enduring relationship with the Apopka Community for several years now. Their weeklong service learning trips begin with our friends at Hope CommUnity Center and lead them through an immersive and transformative week. Many students are deeply impacted by the experience, and several have continued the relationship by joining AmeriCorps for a year of service to the community.

A new group of college students connected with the Farmworker Association on January 4, 2016. The program began when our Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator first introduced the students to the history of Lake Apopka, and then explained the legacy of oppression that still strangles farmworkers today.

The incomparable Linda Lee came to share her story with the students, and touched the hearts of many of those in attendance.  She shared her feelings about the great losses in her community, and the community’s many years of struggle for justice. Her powerful words and poignant stories continue to transform the hearts and minds of all those who hear her, and they sow the seeds of personal growth that, for many, may influence their future paths in life.