Building Power Among Farmworkers



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After the Last Harvest

 The Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Project

Amidst the bustle and strength, hardship and triumph, lies the heart of every community.  Some people keep it bottled up, hoping that time will take care of it all.  Others decide to move away, hoping that with distance, they will find new life.  And others embrace what they have, they life they have lived, and whatever the future holds.

To the Former Lake Apopka Farmworkers, this is the path they have chosen.

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012, marked a day for celebration and remembrance.  It marks a change of thought in our society, and a commitment that the stories and history of the Apopka Community will never be forgotten.  April 3rd marked the opening of After the Last Harvest: The Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Project at City Hall in Orlando, Florida.  This two-month exhibit is the first time that the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts have been shown for a pro-longed period in a gallery setting.  It is a statement that while injustices still occur beneath our dinner tables, the issues these men, women, and children face are coming to the fore-front of public thought.

 Click on the image to display a few photos

The Lake Apopka Project

In 1996, the Farmworker Association of Florida created the Lake Apopka Project to address the issues of the impact to farmworkers of the (at that time proposed) buy-out of the vegetable farms on the north shore of Lake Apopka.  Initially, the FWAF project opposed the state’s attempt to buy out the farms, stating that the public overall would be better served by implementing measures to transition the farms towards sustainable agricultural practices, rather than just paying farmers to leave the area and go other places to farm.   However, the momentum to stop agriculture on Lake Apopka was great, and between 1996 and 1998, the St. Johns River Water Management District negotiated contracts to buy the majority of the farms that made up the Zellwood Drainage District of farmers on the lake’s north shore. 

At the end of May, 1998, over 50 years of farming on Lake Apopka came to a halt forever.  In the wake of the closing of the farms, close to 3000 farmworkers found themselves with no jobs to go back to, and those that had lived in the labor camps found themselves with no seasonal homes.  In the winter of 1998-99, the former farmland was unseasonably flooded, attracting thousands of migrating water birds to the area and resulting in the largest Audubon Christmas Bird Count ever on the lake.  However, the excitement was short-lived, when the birds began dying at alarming numbers.  Eventually, the bird deaths, which totaled close to 1000, were linked to a very toxic pesticide, toxaphene, that had been banned decades previously.  Hence, the farmworkers’ concerns shifted from jobs and housing to health and safety. 

Farmworkers had been exposed for decades, even generations, to the same chemicals that killed the birds and that years before had been implicated in alligator reproductive problems and anomalies in Lake Apopka.  The class of chemicals, known as organochlorine pesticides, are now known to be endocrine disrupters and persistent organic pollutants.  Scientific studies are discovering the chronic human health impacts of these types of chemicals. 

To learn more about this issue, check out the report, the videos and the news articles to learn more about this issue.  And, check out the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Blog Here

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