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Friday, March 20, 2015

Alternative Spring Break Students from University of North Florida Take Toxic Tour

What a powerful way to begin the week!  On Sunday, March 15, seven students and two professors from the University of North Florida visited the Apopka office of the Farmworker Association of Florida for an 'immersion' into the issues of farmworkers and social and environmental justice.  Starting with a Toxic Tour of Lake Apopka, with an opportunity to watch both the "Out of the Muck" and the "Los Naranjeros" videos, the students engaged in a day of learning, observing, questioning, thinking, and challenging the current and past injustices experienced by farmworkers in our country.

With probing questions, open hearts, and alert minds, the group met Linda Lee and heard her personal stories of decades as a farmworker on Lake Apopka.  Ms. Linda also shared with the students some of her most recent quilt square creations, indicative of her creative talents and passion for storytelling through art. Linda keeps getting better all the time!

So incredible was this group of students, that they delayed their drive to Immokalee to stay and hear and learn more.  The group was an inspiration to us!  Thank you from all of us at FWAF!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Farmworkers and "Fed Up" Author at Tampa History Center and Seminole State College

Farmworkers Linda Lee and Betty Dubose joined Fed Up author Dale Slongwhite for a presentation at the beautiful Tampa Bay History Center in Tampa, FL on the evening of Wednesday, February 11th.

 After showing the video "Out of the Muck" and sharing information on the background of environmental problems on Lake Apopka, Ms. Lee and Ms. Dubose talked about their personal experiences as farmworkers in the vegetable fields of Lake Apopka.  Ms. Slongwhite then shared how hearing the farmworkers' stories for the first time at an environmental justice summit at Barry University Law School over five years ago changed her life forever...and was the catalyst that led to her writing the book.  Following the presentation was a question and answer period and station TBAE filmed the event.  Plus, the ride home was fun, too!

A little over a week later, on February 19th, the Red Quilt as well as Linda Lee, Betty Dubose and Dale Finley Slongwhite visited with Professor Anne Riecken's English class at Seminole State College in Altamonte Springs, FL. The students watched "Out of the Muck" as an introduction and then Ms. Lee and Ms. Dubose again spoke about their experiences in the fields. Ms. Slongwhite discussed the process of writing her book as well as her techniques for oral histories and the interviews that make up the book. Farmworker Association of Florida staff member, Jeannie Economos, gave background history on the Lake Apopka farms and the environmental destruction they wrought. It was a great day, and 55 new people got to hear the story of the Lake Apopka Farmworkers.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Quilts on Display at the Orange County Regional History Center

This Saturday, February 7th, 2015, the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts were seen by dozens of visitors to the Orange County Regional History Center. The quilts are being displayed as part of the And Still We Rise: Race, Cultural and Visual Conversations special exhibit that will be at the museum from February 7th until May 3rd. The exhibit explores nearly four centuries of African American history, through more than 60 story quilts made by women of color. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Fed Up Talk and Toxic Tour with the Adventist Forum

The weekend of January 10-11, the Adventist Forum of Orlando brought over 100 members, eager to hear the stories of the farmworkers in Apopka, together for our most recent discussion of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt project and the book Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Food. After a brief introduction and short reading by author Dale Slongwhite, former Lake Apopka farmworker Linda Lee told the audience about her family's history as farmworkers, originally coming to Apopka from north Florida and finding work in the vegetable fields on the north shore of the lake. 

She described the harsh work conditions, extremely low pay, and oppressive experience of working on a mule train packaging sweet corn. 

For many in the audience this may be one of the first moments of true reflection on the legacy of slavery in American agriculture in the South. Many members of the audience were moved by the quilt squares memorializing the lives of now deceased farmworkers whose work fed a nation for decades. Linda went on to describe the harsh conditions many orange picker's face, having to carry 90lb bags of oranges up and down tall ladders, leaned precariously against trees. 

Both Linda Lee, and former farmworker, Betty Dubose described the long-term effects pesticide exposure has had on their lives and the lives of many in the farm worker community. During the Q&A session at the end of the talk, many asked poignant questions about how to support increasing the awareness and knowledge about the relationship between toxic exposure and devastating health conditions, like Lupus, inter-generational mental health problems, lung problems and other forms of organ failure. 

Moved to learn more, about 30 participants of Saturday's talk joined us again Sunday afternoon for a toxic tour of the area, where they saw first hand the sources of environmental contamination in the community.  . Thanks to the Adventist Forum organizers and members for engaging with the Farmworker Association of Florida to bring this issue to the attention of the broader community and Forum participants.  Together, we are stronger and awareness is key!

Members of the Forum study a map of the muck farms while standing quite near the north shore of Lake Apopka. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Loyola Students Immersion Experience in Apopka

We are starting out 2015 at the Farmworker Association of Florida with a lot of commitment and enthusiasm! This week, a group of students from Loyola University visited the FWAF Apopka office as a part of an immersion project with the Hope Community Center. The students and staff are from a wide variety of states, such as Connecticut, New York, Maryland and even Puerto Rico. 

With the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts on display, the students participated in a presentation about the reality of farmworkers in Florida.  During their visit, they learned about the injustices farmworkers face as a part of the legacy of slavery here in the United States, particularly the terrible working conditions for many migrant workers brought here as a part of the H-2A guestworker program.  They watched a short video called “Los Naranajeros” about the working conditions of orange pickers.  The film was produced a few years ago by a group of Harvard Law School students in partnership with our Immokalee office. The video was followed by a great discussion of how the students can avoid purchasing fruits and vegetables produced by workers facing exploitation and exposure to toxic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. We also encouraged them to read more about the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15".

Jeannie Economos demonstrates how to carry an orange picking back. 
These typically hold about 90lbs worth of oranges.

The students then learned more about the history of Lake Apopka and the work Dr. Louis Guillette  produced to bring scientific attention to the harmful effects of DDT on human and wildlife. The effects of DDT on wildlife was first brought to Dr. Guillette's attention as he began to notice abnormalities in the development of alligators in Lake Apopka and established the idea that chemicals like DDT can have harmful effects on life because they are neuro-endocrine disrupters. Basically, this means that the chemicals target the nervous and hormonal system of the body and can lead to life threatening illnesses.

Jeannie Economos and Americorp Volunteer Coordinator, Pia Desangles help the students understand the history of Lake Apopka visually.

Since we didn't want the students to leave too depressed from our discussion, we ended our talk with a description of how indigenous farming techniques, like agroecological practices, local organizations like ours, and global farmworker social movements like La Via Campesina help promote positive change for our communities. Afterall, the new food movements are great but truly good foods must be produced with justice for workers!

Sociology Graduate Student and Volunteer, Bekah Torcasso, discusses La Via Campesina.

After our talk we posed for a group photo in front of the Apopka office, chanting "si se puede!"

Thank you Sister Ann Kendrick and the Hope Center for bringing such wonderful guests to learn and share in our mission to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities to respond to and gain control over the social, political, workplace, economic, health and environmental justice issues that impact our lives!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

You Can Help FWAF Purchase New Quilt Stands

From Gainesville to Orlando, the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts have brought the stories of the Lake Apopka farmworkers to more than a dozen venues this year.  Now, the Farmworker Association of Florida needs your help so that we can continue spreading the quilts’ message throughout Florida.  During their many travels, the quilt stands have suffered some wear and tear, and we hope to replace them a with stronger, sturdier stand.  Our goal is to raise $400 to buy new, more durable stands by January 1, 2015.

You can help the quilts continue sharing their message and the stories of the farmworkers to others around the state.  Please make a tax-deductible contribution through the PayPal link below, and email us at to earmark your donation for the quilt stands.  Or, send a check payable to the Farmworker Association of Florida to 1264 Apopka Blvd., Apopka, FL 32703 with “quilt stands” in the memo line.  With your generosity, we look forward to displaying the quilts at book signings, universities, and community events for many years to come!

Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Quilts Celebrated at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Orlando

Both the Red and Blue Quilts were on display at the monthly Common Read meeting at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Orlando on Saturday, November 15. Dale Finley Slongwhite’s Fed Up: The High Costs of Cheap Food, which chronicles the oral histories of Lake Apopka farmworkers, was the Common Read selection for November. 

Slongwhite, former Lake Apopka farmworkers Betty Dubose, Geraldean Matthew and Linda Lee, and FWAF staff presented to about 30 congregants on the social, ecological, and labor history of Lake Apopka.  In addition, volunteer and artist Sarah Downs, who was instrumental in working with Linda Lee and the farmworkers in the quilt-making process, spoke movingly about her experience with presenting a quilt square to former farmworker, Johnnie Mae, of Johnnie's deceased daughter.  Everyone in the room was moved by the stories. The Quilts, the book, and the people who made them possible combined to make this an informative and consciousness-raising event.