By Dominique Aulisio,
Director of YAYA of the National Farm Worker Ministry
Linda Lee, former Lake Apopka farmworker and community quiltmaker presented the Blue Quilt to a packed room at the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference in Durham, North Carolina on Saturday, October 20. This was a very special joint presentation with the Farmworker Association of Florida, Hope CommUnity Center and YAYA – youth group of the National Farm Worker Ministry. Our three organizations fundraised to jointly send a delegation of six people to the conference in order to share the history and struggle of the Lake Apopka farmworkers with an audience of Black farmers and gardeners and activists from across the U.S. and beyond. We held an online fundraiser, bake sales in Apopka and at UCF, and held a drawing for gift cards to local businesses.
During our workshop, Linda Lee detailed the history of pesticide contamination on Lake Apopka, chronic and multi-generational health problems, systemic racism, and the twenty-year battle to obtain health care for the workers. She also shared the joys of working alongside her sisters on the farms. Robyn Thomas, an Apopka resident who is part of the Americorps program at Hope CommUnity Center, shared her father's experience as a farm worker, and also spoke on the environmental racism in Apopka and ongoing health problems in her family. Cheyanne Swift, who is Linda's granddaughter, shared the words of the late Apopka organizer Geraldean Matthew from a passage of the book Fed Up: The High Cost of Cheap Food. Tareek Leonard, YAYA member whose inspiration led the effort to attend the conference, moderated the presentation. The reception was very warm. Workshop participants expressed outrage at the injustice the Lake Apopka workers have endured, as well as solidarity and appreciation for the history shared orally and through the quilt.
While at the conference, we were also able to make important connections and contacts regarding land sovereignty, food sovereignty, and workers’ rights. Tareek Leonard gives a perspective on what it meant to our organizations to participate in the conference. Also attending the conference were Dominique Aulisio, YAYA Director, and Shaul, an active YAYA member.