Disaster response work takes time. Long after the news media have left an area when other news events draw them away, a community is still left with the daily clean up and recovery efforts to restore their shattered lives and livelihoods. Such was the case with Fellsmere: years after the hurricanes, FWAF was still addressing the disaster’s impact. The farmworker community responded by asking FWAF to remain as a presence in the community and to help them address the issues confronting them. Thus, the fifth FWAF office was established.
Today, Fellsmere is a success story of a farmworker community becoming empowered and taking control of their situation. From an organizing campaign that resulted in the election of community members to local office, to the current pride and joy of the community – the Fellsmere Community Garden - the people in Fellsmere have shown what can happen when the people take power into their own hands. On any given day, the office in Fellsmere is alive with children’s after school arts and crafts activities, women’s peer support groups, pesticide health and safety trainings, youth gathering for fun and education, and workers heading to the community garden to grow their own herbs and vegetables.
Acres and acres, miles and miles of citrus groves dominate the landscape in and around Fellsmere. Citrus packing houses are also a feature of the area. A large watercress farm thrives on vast stretches of farm land, and cattle and horse ranching can also be found in the area. The majority of the farmworkers from Fellsmere, however, work in citrus.
Families in Fellsmere work largely in the vast citrus industry and many families have multiple family members that work the groves. While some workers are migrants, and others are ‘guestworkers’ or H2A workers, the Fellsmere community consists mainly of established families, many of whom own their own homes and have children enrolled in the local schools.
(Download brochure in English and Spanish)
The community garden is symbolic of the Fellsmere community itself – it is truly a growing and thriving work in progress. 2011 was its first Spring in existence and brought a harvest of lush crops of cilantro, Romaine lettuce, and radishes, while the corn and tomato plants grow taller and more beautiful every day! The hoop house shelters tender seedlings as they are nurtured in preparation for planting in the outdoor beds.
Community members are enjoying the fruits of their labor – not only in having fresh – and the seeds are all organic – food to eat, but the joy and relaxation and pride of working in the soil and watching the verdant results of their labor. Area Coordinator, Yolanda Gomez, remarked on the beauty of the community collaboration that has developed. Area ranchers are offering free cow and horse manure to use as fertilizer on the newly developed raised beds. And, community members are learning to convert their household food scraps into compost for the garden. An herb garden in the center of the garden is the contribution of the local IFAS agricultural extension office, that has offered its time and expertise to helping the community with this increasingly popular community project.