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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Quilts Wow at Veg Fest, Connect with Kids

Quilts Featured at 
Local Events in Central Florida 

Veg Fest

People bustled by with recently purchased products and fistfuls of fliers but oftentimes, their eyes would linger over our Blue Quilt. Our table at Veg Fest had plenty of petitions and pamphlets, but the Quilt grabbed the attention of the most people. The annual festival in Orlando"VegFest,"  draws in a huge crowd, partially for the wide variety of vegetarian food options, and partially for people who want to connect with the community. Veg Fest is an annual vegetarian festival that aims to educate people on the benefits of eating a vegetarian diet. People can see what lots of different organizations are doing around social justice and animal rights. At our table, the Quilt - hand stitched and beautiful, prompted questions about the story of the quilters. When people heard the backstory, the injustice that has driven people to create such powerful art, they were taken aback. Many walked off with stories of each square, to absorb later, or to share with the quilters in their families. One person even recognized the Quilt, having read about it in Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food, and was very excited and emotional seeing the Quilt in person.

Veg Fest October 24, 2015
Children too were interested in the Quilt. When the story of Lake Apopka was shared with their parents, two small boys put their change into our donation box, “to help people who can’t get the doctor when they need it.” Their actions are a testament to how art can start a dialogue around social justice! The more people who are aware of the story of the Lake Apopka Farmworkers, the more people who care, the more justice we can get for those affected. 

Youth Rally

The Holy Family Catholic Church held a rally for seventeen different youth groups groups in Central Florida parishes. The Blue Quilt was on display for the kids, as well as many informational materials. The groups heard a talk on missionary work in other countries, and learned all about opportunities to get involved in their community locally. Many youths and parents were drawn to the Quilt, and Farmworker Association staff members were there to share who the quilt makers are, and why they created the Quilt. 

Youth in the community were not versed in farmworker issues for the most part, from understanding the difference between farmers and farmworkers, to how much farmworkers are paid, many youth were shocked at what they heard. Guesses ranged from an 80 pound sack of oranges being worth 200 dollars for farmworkers, to guesses of a dollar per bag,  which is closest to the real amount. Even today, farmworkers only receive 80 cents per bag. Some students were nonplussed that this kind of injustice happens right in their backyards. Many students jumped on the chance to volunteer and be involved in la lucha, the struggle for farmworker rights. A testament to the power of the Quilt, many conversations were began around the Quilts and expanded into a deeper understanding of agricultural labor, oppression, and food systems here in the United States. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

YAYA Takes a Toxic Tour

"We not only fight for current farm workers dignity, but need we not forget the ones who came before."-YAYA

The Youth and Young Adult Network of the National Farmworker Ministry (YAYA) joined  former Lake Apopka farmworker and quilt maker, Linda Lee, on a sunny Sunday afternoon for a "Toxic Tour."

Linda helped  these students learn about Lake Apopka, farmworkers, social justice, and environmental justice. The group saw former farmlands, observed workers in the field, and heard stories from the wonderful Linda Lee. They poignantly reflected that the fight for farmworkers today is inextricably linked to the injustices and systemic issues of the past. Predominately African-American before the migration of Latino immigrants and seasonal workers, farmworkers' history is rooted in the legacy of slavery. Reflecting on that past helps us understand the attitudes around farmwork, and the structures that oppress. Understanding this helps us to move forward in la lucha, the fight for farmworkers' justice.
YAYA is a national network of young people actively working to change the oppressive social, political and economic conditions of farm workers. YAYA has been a wonderful partner and ally in fighting for farmworker justice. We appreciate their time and reflections on their experience. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Inter-generational Exchange: 
Linda Lee and SSC
On October first, former farmworker Linda Lee spoke to the students of Seminole State College about Lake Apopka's history. Anne Riecken of SSC’s English department invited several of her classes to attend a presentation on Lake Apopka and Farmworkers. The Farmworker Association's pesticide health and safety project coordinator began by discussing how Lake Apopka went from a world-class bass fishing lake to the most polluted lake in Florida. She also shared how the pesticides affected the birds and alligators of the lake, when one student astutely asked "how long until this starts killing people?" His answer was from Linda Lee, who spoke passionately on how many people all around her have gotten sick and died after decades of long-term chronic exposure to pesticides. 

  “Any Disease you can think of, you can find it in Apopka” she said. It is no wonder that disease is widespread considering over 90% of the farmworkers who worked on the Lake Apopka Farms were exposed to the same toxic pesticides that killed over a thousand birds in a single season. She also shared the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts, specifically the red quilt, and shared the stories behind some of the squares on the quilt. Farmworkers also worked in other kinds of crops, in addition to the vegetable fields on Lake Apopka.  Students were moved by Linda's words as they watched her lift an orange –picking sack over her shoulders, demonstrating the size of loads – 80-90 pounds per sack - farmworkers must fill and carry many, many times per day to make depressingly low wages even today. Linda commanded respect and students sat rapt listening to her stories and memories as they were moved by her drive for justice for her community.

Dale Slongwhite complemented Linda’s stories by reading from her book Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Food.  Dale spoke as a writer and encouraged students to seek out stories that are outside their own experience. Writing for discovery as she explained it, brought her into a community she otherwise might not have known. She began with no knowledge of the injustice farmworkers face, with no idea it was happening right here in her own community, close to where she had lived all along. By delving deeper into the history she found Linda’s stories, and many like hers. Dale immersed herself in the community to be able to tell the stories of the Lake Apopka farmworkers. She is an inspiration and students lingered after the presentation to speak with her. Many students hung back perusing brochures and asking questions, eyes opened to a history, an injustice, that now has a powerful human face. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Geraldean Matthew on the Cover of the Orlando Sentinel!

Farmworker Association of Florida Lake Apopka Farmworker, the incomparable Geraldean Matthew, made the front page of the Sunday OrlandoSentinel.  Her interview discussed the chronic and inter-generational health problems caused by pesticides for farmworker families. Geraldean shared the history of the Lake Apopka muck farms and her personal experience with pesticide exposure. Another FWAF Lake Apopka Memorial Quilt Maker, Linda Lee is featured in the article, also sharing her experience being exposed to pesticides and the lack of education around pesticides. Geraldean expressed her frustration at how much money has been spent to buy out the farms and to restore the lake and wildlife, while ignoring the health of the people who are suffering from exposure to the same chemicals.

                                                                       (Orlando Sentinel)

While this injustice remains unanswered, steps are being made to study the connection between pesticide poisoning and the former farmworkers' health issues. Senator Geraldine Thompson has requested a study be done by the University of Florida in order to help bring these workers justice. We're incredibly proud that heroes like Geraldean continue to speak about injustice, and continue to demand answers.

Linda Lee Speaks on Environmental Racism at Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Community Forum

A very exciting opportunity for community members to speak on issues of police violence, discrimination, and poverty was well attended. Close to ninety people gathered to share and to listen to community members stories and experiences with the IACHR. This commission is drafting a report that will be sent to the United States Government in January detailing their interactions with the community and recommendations around the issues. Linda Lee spoke on the environmental racism that farmworkers in Apopka have faced for generations. She shared how inaccessible healthcare is for her and for people in her community.

She has severe health problems because of environmental racism, and continues to have difficulty in accessing healthcare due to racism and her status as a low-income black woman. The commission needed to hear about her struggles, because so many people in the community continue to be silenced and disrespected. We applaud Linda for sharing her story and lifting the voice of South Apopka. Her words were powerful, and in good company. Other Farmworker Association of Florida members spoke on issues of discrimination that illuminated what life is like for many people living in the United States. Geraldean Matthew spoke on police violence from personal experience, as well as Luckner Millien who spoke powerfully on issues of discrimination against Haitians. Yessica Ramirez shared the struggles of undocumented and impoverished Latinos. All the speakers made important and diverse points to illuminate discrimination in the United States, and contributed to a report that can hopefully yield change for those who are discriminated against. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Connecting with Gee's Bend Quilts 

Apopka Quilt Maker Connects with Gee's Bend Quilts

The crowd at the "Understanding the Quilts of Gee's Bend" Lecture and workshop was diverse and
intimate. Around 20 people, including Farmworker Association of Florida Lake Apopka Farmworker
Memorial Quilt Maker, Linda Lee and her two granddaughters Cinnamon and Cheyenne, in addition to
volunteer Bekah Torcasso-Sanchez, learned some of these fabulous quilts' history and got some hands-
on time working on quilt squares of their own. Along the Alabama River, Gee's Bend is an isolated
hamlet that produced one of the most important contributions to visual art and culture in the United
States. These quilts are unique and stunning, a reminder of just how beautiful quilting as an art form can
be. The workshop opened with a prayer, "rain helps flowers grows, as tears help us to grow." These
words connect to a visceral truth; quilting is about loss, pain, and eventually growth.

All too familiar with loss, Linda passed on more than a skill to her granddaughters working on the quilts,
she passed on strength through story-telling. Just as they re-purpose the scraps of the cloth into awe
inspiring art, quilt-makers reconstruct the trauma in their lives into passion, resilience, and power.

Getting a chance to create their own squares empowered and excited community members who felt 
free to create.  Above are examples of Linda Lee’s quilting talents and her artistic expression of her 
community, her life and the farmworker reality, transforming her life’s experiences into beautiful pieces 
of visual folk art.

Featured Artist Louisiana Bendolph and her mother, Rita Mae Pettway (center) are both Gee's Bend 
Quilters along with Linda Lee’s Granddaughters Cinnamon and Cheyenne.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


On August 6, 2015, a man who made a difference in the world left this plane of existence for another.  He changed the way that we understand our world and, in so doing, he warned us of what we need to do to protect it. 

Dr. Louis Guillette, the alligator scientist, noted for his studies on alligators on Lake Apopka and the effects of pesticides on wildlife, and, hence, on humans, died after a life-time of work that took him around the world and helped open up a new realm of science that identified chemicals in the environment that impact the endocrine systems of animals and, ultimately, of humans.

Farmworkers worked for decades on Lake Apopka.  They were exposed to the same chemicals that caused reproductive abnormalities in the alligators on the lake.  While agency officials and environmentalists were dismissing the importance of the chemical contamination on the lake, Dr. Guillette continued to sound the alarm that persistent chemicals are causing endocrine disruption in possibly more than just the alligators. 

The Farmworker Association of Florida and the community of Lake Apopka farmworkers are deeply saddened by this great loss.  Dr. Guillette – Lou – and his anthropologist wife, Buzzy, participated in community meetings with the farmworker community to demand answers to their questions about their pesticide exposure on Lake Apopka.  Unlike other scientists afraid to take their science one step further and advocate for change, Dr. Guillette was a hero to many in our community, in Florida and around the world.  His work is cited in many publications, books, and journals.

We will always remember Dr. Guillette as one of the few people who listened, cared about, understood and spoke out for the farmworkers on Lake Apopka.  Our hearts break.  We will miss him greatly.   

Dr. Louis Guillette was a keynote speaker at the Pesticide Forum in Orlando in April of this year.  The Beyond Pesticides annual Forum was co-sponsored by FWAF.  Click here to view a video of Dr. Guillette’s keynote address.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

Environmental Ambassadors take the Lake Apopka Toxic Tour

An amazing group of young people from Gainesville, FL came to Apopka on Friday, July 17 for a Lake Apopka Toxic Tour.

Nkwanda Jah led the group of 5 students in the Environmental Ambassadors program, opening their eyes to know ideas and new experiences.

We shared the histories and stories of farmworkers in Apopka and Black history in the U.S.

Former farmworkers Linda Lee and Evelyn helped lead the tour and shared their personal stories. We are grateful for their willingness to share and educate the next generations each and every time.

Linda is shown here demonstrating to the students what it is like to be an orange picker. 

You all are AWESOME and we love you!