Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stories of a Quilt Square: John Johnson

Earma Peterson honors her uncle, John Johnson, in this square that beautifully portrays him and his wife, Lula, hoeing peanuts and playing with a cat in their front yard.

Even after working all day on the muck farms of Lake Apopka, most farmworkers like Mr. Johnson returned to their homes and continued farming in personal gardens. Not only did this small amount of food supplement their own food supply, but it was a continuation of their passion for working the land and the satisfaction of providing for their families.

While doing yard work, Mr. Johnson is pictured wearing overalls and a hat that help to protect him from the hot sun during a day in the fields. What he doesn’t know is that resting in the fiber of his clothes, harmful elements of pesticides have travelled home with him from the muck farms.

For decades before the Environmental Protection Agency Worker Protection Standards were passed, farmworkers unknowingly brought home pesticides from the fields as residues on their clothes, potentially exposing their children, their homes, and themselves to these harmful chemicals.  Like most farmworkers of his time, Mr. Johnson is unknowingly sharing these harmful chemicals with his wife and kids. Some of the chemicals used at that time were persistent organic pollutants, like DDT, that were eventually linked in scientific studies to alligator abnormalities and to the massive bird deaths on Lake Apopka.   While money was allocated to wildlife studies on Lake Apopka, farmworkers with diseases like lupus, cancer, kidney failure and other chronic diseases, have received little to no attention to identify links between their health issues and exposure to pesticides. 

Thanks to the quilt, the public has an opportunity to learn more about the lives of the Lake Apopka farmworkers, and to raise awareness about farmworkers and pesticide exposure.

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