Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Apopka History Mural Project Continues!

In Apopka, FL, the Farmworker Association has been working since August of 2019 to begin the implementation of a mural project. While the idea began in August, it's taken months to figure out all the details, contacts, plans, and coordination for the project. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic that has left most members of the community quarantined, the artists behind the Apopka History Mural continue to work, so that once it is deemed safe they will be able to dive in and finish this project that has taken months of work and dedication from so many others.

Artist Linda Lee - a lifelong member of the Apopka farmworker community, one of the lead artists for the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial quilts, and the lead artist on the Apopka History Mural project.

Artist Sarah Downs - one of the lead artists for the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial quilts, and one of the lead artists for the Apopka History Mural project.
The months of planning mostly involved figuring out what the mural would feature, receiving community input and ideas, and also logistics for where and when the mural would be ready. The planning team interviewed several Apopka residents to hear what they had to contribute to the mural, and also got a chance to submit Apopka farmworker histories to the Samuel Proctor Oral History Project at the University of Florida. After the interviews were completed, we had enough ideas to begin the painting process. Yet, just as the wood had been ordered and the artists were ready to prep for the painting process, coronavirus locked Florida down and, in order to protect the health and safety of our artists, we put a hold on the mural project. This has not stopped our artists from working at home to finalize the mural content.

Sketches and paintings from Linda and Sarah for the Apopka History Mural Project
This past week, several members of the Apopka History Mural planning team got together and completed the sanding and priming of the wood that our mural will be placed on. Now, once the wood has dried, we will be able to begin the process of painting and bringing the mural to life. While we are still prioritizing health and safety at this time, the mural planning team believes that if we continue to practice social distancing and keep our meetings small, then we can continue to meet and further the mural, even during this uncertain time. 

Linda and Sarah interviewing Apopka resident, Leroy, in January.

Linda and Sarah interviewing Apopka resident, Mae, in February.

Sarah working with Linda's grandsons on sketches for the mural project in February.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Quotes from Law Students After Visiting Apopka Farmworkers

At the beginning of March, before the pandemic of the coronavirus shut down people's lives across the globe, the Florida State University Law School held an alternative spring break where law students could visit Apopka, Florida, and learn about farmworker rights, history, culture, and struggles. You can read more about the visit here.

After their visit, the students did a write-up describing their experiences and take-aways from the alternative spring break. They were kind enough to send us excerpts from their write-ups, and said we were welcome to share on our blog! Below are the quotes.

“Our weekend experience was full of in-depth exploration surrounding many of the issues I have attempted to address above – and much of that exploration led to dark truths. However, more consequentially, working with Jeannie and Yesica and Linda and Paola and Squirt and the rest of our wonderful team inspired hope and passion in me. The work that these people have done and the work that they carry on doing every day provides me with energy for the future. Many of the realities facing the farmworker community are harsh ones – and unjust ones. These realities will not change absent persistent effort: effort exemplified by the Farmworker Association of Florida in Apopka.” - Barclay, 1L

“Many environmental justice groups ignore communities harmed by the industrial policies they seek to change. I’m grateful to the Farm Worker Association for teaching us that we cannot achieve a safer, greener earth without acknowledging and fighting for the invisible, skilled people who are very clearly the backbone of America.” - Lauren, 1L

“I am very thankful I was able to attend this program; it is a great way for law students to get a taste of a variety of farmworker issues, while still getting a very immersive experience. I would highly recommend this program.” - Margeling, 3L

“The invisible people. Alternative Spring Break 2020 was an eye-opening experience for me. My heart broke for a community of people that is treated unjustly everyday and yet we look the other way. Farmworkers feel invisible, their cries feel unheard. This is unacceptable. The narrative around farmworkers must change. Their stories must be heard in order to begin change.” - Peyton, 1L

“...fighting injustice is always the right thing to do. Creating a more just world, through the smallest of actions to the largest of societal change, is always worth it. Small actions change people, people change communities, communities change the world.” - Yazel, 1L

Reading quotes like these makes all the work we put into these trips worthwhile! In order to help farmworkers fight for their rights, we must spread awareness and education on the issues. We hope that through this technique, we are helping build a brighter future for farmworker communities. Thank you again to the FSU law students that have become a part of that future!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Law Students Learn from Linda Lee and Mural Progress Continues

March 13th-16th, students from Florida State University Law School ventured from Tallahassee to Apopka to dedicate part of their spring break to learning about the life and struggles of farmworkers. On their first day in Apopka, the students were taken on a toxic tour of Lake Apopka to learn about the environmental racism and injustice that has plagued the community for decades. At the end of the tour, the students even got a chance to meet Linda Lee, a community activist and former Lake Apopka farmworker whose powerful memories provide a vivid picture of what life was like on the Lake Apopka farms.

The students had a busy weekend of working in local plant nurseries, and assisting the Farmworker Association with community outreach over the 2020 Census and other community issues. The students were especially saddened to see some of the dilapidated houses that some of the community members live in. The group of students was able to reconvene with Linda in the Apopka Campesinxs Garden to do some more hands-on work. The Campesinxs Garden is meant to provide community members like Linda Lee with access to land, so that knowledge of plants and farming that has passed through generations of farmworkers can be remembered in the present.

While Linda continues to teach students and community members about the history of Lake Apopka, the mural project is still underway at the Farmworker Association! Although the covid-19 precautions have caused a bit of a slow down in the process, Linda and her boys continue to sketch every day, and they have big ideas for the mural!

Work for the mural continues on, and we hope that once public health issues have calmed down we will be able to return to the community art project that is meant to memorialize the hardworking people of Apopka!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Discusses Environmental Justice!

Feb. 25th-27th, the Farmworker Association had an important opportunity to discuss environmental racism and justice issues with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The occasion arose from the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council's meeting in Jacksonville, FL. This meeting allows different organizations and communities to speak with the Council, which advises the EPA on different environmental justice issues, providing a forum for environmental justice conversations and topics.

During the public meetings, Linda Lee spoke about her life as a farmworker and the issues of health in her farmworker community of Apopka. Linda had the opportunity to speak on a panel about farmworkers with other representatives from the Farmworker Association, including, Yesica Ramirez, Elvia Lopez, Linda Lee, Antonio Tovar, and Jeannie Economos.

The speakers on our panel made an amazing speech about a life of farmwork and the impact it can have on a community. This left the other NEJAC Council members speechless due to the power of the stories told. Additionally, Linda was able to display the red Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt, which many approached afterwards to observe and ask Linda questions about.

On the panel, Yesica and Elvia talked about their personal experiences working in nurseries and the working conditions, especially regarding exposure to pesticides. Antonio talked about the Farmworker Association's research project with Emory University that looks at levels of organophosphate pesticides and the fungicide Mancozeb in the urine of 100 farmworker women of reproductive age, which shows the high levels of pesticides in the urine. Jeannie Economos talked about the fact that farmworkers are often overlooked as being an environmental justice community because of many factors, including for some their migratory status following the harvesting seasons.

The NEJAC Public meeting provided a great space for the Farmworker Association to discuss farmworker rights and issues, as well as a place for Linda to retell her story and display the memorial quilt. By attending these discussions, the Farmworker Association hopes that the EPA will consider farmworkers' rights in future policy decisions!

The NEJAC took a trip to visit the Clara White Mission to learn about the great programs they are doing in the historically Black community there.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Environmental Justice with Dr. Robert Bullard at Rollins College

February 20th and 21st, Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, hosted the father of environmental justice, Dr. Robert Bullard, to be the keynote speaker for the 15th Annual Summit on Transforming Learning. Dr. Robert Bullard spoke about how ecological pollution and degradation excessively affect low-income, minority, and politically powerless people. Former Lake Apopka farmworker, Linda Lee, who has first-hand experience with environmental racism and its impacts on a community, was able to attend the event with the Farmworker Association. Dr. Bullard was a fantastic speaker, who engaged his audience while discussing the history and presence of environmental racism and justice.

Additionally, the Farmworker Association of Florida was represented by Jeannie Economos, the Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator, at the breakout sessions on Feb. 21st at Rollins College. Jeannie along with Dr. Rachel Newcomb, and Dr. Nolan Kline of Rollins College hosted a breakout session called, "Collaborating for Environmental Justice In and Out of the Classroom". 

This is the artwork of Holly Jefferies, a writer, artist, and designer whose powerful pieces were placed outside the breakout sessions. See more of her work here.

The breakout session allowed for a discussion on the role of academic and community-based organization partnerships on addressing environmental justice issues among Central Florida's farmworkers. They also discussed course engagement work, student and faculty collaborative research, and ongoing projects that strengthen student learning and local populations.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Attending Eatonville's Zora Neale Hurston Festival

On Saturday, February 1st, Lake Apopka Farmworker Mural artists Linda Lee and Sarah Downs traveled to Eatonville, FL for the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival and mural unveilings. The festival was located beside a wall in which several murals displaying African-American figures and aspirations were placed, allowing Linda and Sarah to gather inspiration for the Lake Apopka farmworker mural project. Additionally, Linda Lee was able to bring her great-grandsons and granddaughter to the event to participate in various activities and learn about black history.

The festival is in celebration of Zora Neale Hurston, a renown African-American author famous for her work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which took place in various cities throughout Florida, including Eatonville. The festival was in celebration of black and African pride and influence throughout the world.

The festival and mural reveal provided excellent opportunities for Sarah and Linda to speak with other muralists and learn about different resources. There was also plenty of face-painting and mask-making for Linda's great-grandsons to enjoy!

Friday, January 24, 2020

Artists Interview Locals for Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Mural

Last week, mural artists Linda Lee and Sarah Downs were able to meet with Apopka, FL native Leroy Bell to discuss the history of Apopka, and the changes that the community has faced over the decades. This interview was conducted as part of the oral histories the Farmworker Association is collecting for our Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Mural project.

Leroy has lived in Apopka his whole life, and together, he and Linda were able to reminisce about the community throughout the later half of the 20th century. Linda and Leroy discussed all the local, black-owned businesses that used to exist throughout Apopka, and all the personality and liveliness that was brought into the community through their presence. The pool houses, candy shops, theaters, furniture stores, and neighborhoods that existed made Apopka a close-knit community where you knew your neighbor, and they knew you too.

Leroy provided great stories, memories, and locations throughout Apopka to help inspire the art for the Farmworker Association's ongoing mural project. In addition to Leroy's history, we also had the opportunity to interview Mary Beckett, a former Lake Apopka farmworker who still lives in Apopka.

Mary told us about her life in Apopka and before she moved here. Born to a sharecropping family in Alabama, Mary moved to Apopka as a child and spent her entire life as a farmworker for different farms and nurseries. The interview revolved around her every day life growing up, and the hardships that her family faced. She was able to reminisce about the old Apopka community, mentioning that every time they got paid she would make a stop to the 10 cent store to buy nail polish and candy.

We are continuing to plan interviews with former Lake Apopka farmworkers, as well as their families so we can include the perspective of multiple generations on the community mural. If you know of anyone who is interested in participating in the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Mural, please call our office at 407-886-5151! To learn more about our mural project, click here visit the donation page.

Additionally, the Farmworker Association was happy to host a toxic tour on January 23rd with members from St. Luke's United Methodist Church. The tour was eye-opening for those in the group; many had spent their entire lives in Apopka but they did not know the extent of the pollution in Lake Apopka. Visitors were able to reminisce about how clear and popular the lake was when they were growing up, but now it is impossible to see through and not a single person can be seen boating. Toxic tours provide important information to the community, keeping alive the real history of Lake Apopka by remembering the strength and resilience of the farmworkers.