Message From Our Interim General Coordinator
In March of 2019, the Farmworker Association of Florida celebrated 36 years since its founding in 1983 by holding our statewide General Assembly in Apopka, bringing together farmworker community members, staff and Board members from our five areas of the state to collectively have a voice in charting the organization’s course for the future. The celebration was also an occasion to honor, thank and recognize the organization’s co-founder and General Coordinator of 36 years, former farmworker and organizer, Tirso Moreno, on his retirement after more than three decades of commitment to the struggle for farmworkers’ rights. Under his leadership, the organization expanded from Central Florida to four other areas of the state and to active involvement in local, state, national, and international issues and policies working in coalitions, collaborations, and alliances to address the marginalization of
and injustices against farmworkers and rural communities and to work for a more just agricultural system.
I am humbled and honored to step in as Interim General Coordinator during this Transition Period for the organization, as we find ourselves as an organization and as individuals in turbulent, yet promising times – for workers, for our state, for the nation and for our planet. Thirty-six years ago, climate change did not pose the imminent threat to us all, especially the most vulnerable, as it does today. Anti-immigrant sentiment, while always a threat to our nation’s farmworkers, was not at the level of dangerous discourse that it is today in our country. The use of agricultural chemicals and genetically-modified seeds has grown exponentially in the last three decades, and heat stress from increasingly high temperatures and high humidity related to climate change and global warming put farmworkers’ health at risk.
These, and many more, are all the challenges that farmworkers in our communities – and our organization – face. Years of leadership development among our community members, a committed and dedicated Board of Directors, the expertise and experience of our hardworking staff have proven that we are up to the challenge ahead of us. Transition is a time of change and it can be a time of uncertainty. But, a transition that is built on a strong foundation, with a clear vision and a laser-focus on long-term goals, is a winning combination. The caterpillar becomes a chrysalis before it re-emerges as a butterfly. This is the transition that we are undertaking, with confidence and commitment.
Even as we, as an organization and in solidarity with allies and alliances around the country and around the world, join wholeheartedly in the principled struggle for a truly JustTransition in which “another world is possible,” we reaffirm our priorities, build on our foundation and bridge into the future with our farmworkers leading the way. Be a part of the change that our world so urgently needs. Become a part of our Just Community! The farmworkers – and the world – depend upon it!
Interim General Coordinator
Message From Our Co-Founder
Consider for a moment a common need that connects us all – healthy food – that feeds and sustains us so that we can continue to grow, care for our families, and live life to the fullest each day. Now, take a moment to consider the links in the chain that bring that food to our tables – the land, the seeds, water and sunshine, and the hands that cultivate and harvest the crops.
I’ve spent my life surrounded by farmworkers – working in the fields, fighting discrimination and exploitation, building the power of farmworker communities, and advocating for farmworkers’ rights. I am proud of who I am, and I am proud of our people. We do a service to this society.
The intense labor of farmworkers each day contributes greatly to human health, yet farmworkers are often forgotten. Imagine rising before the sun, enduring long work hours of rigorous physical labor, surrounded by the extreme Florida heat and humidity, and constant exposure to pesticides. And after giving
“I am a farmworker myself, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of my fellow farmworkers who work in the fields producing food and other farm products that end up on the tables of America, in the homes of Americans. We believe that we do a great contribution to society and for that reason we deserve respect, dignity and better treatment in the workplace. In the last 35 years, we have been working in farmworker communities and have been able to make some significant improvements. We have seen important changes but, still, farmworkers suffer a lot of injustice, exploitation, and discrimination. We have to continue working to improve living and working conditions for our fellow farmworkers.” ~Tirso Moreno
your full physical self, you still earn deplorable wages and live in impoverished conditions. Despite these hardships, farmworker families somehow retain a spirit of community, faith, and perseverance.
All of us depend on the fruits of the earth for nourishment, and yet few understand the labor and risks involved in planting, tending, harvesting, and processing our food. Let each meal remind us that we depend on the land and are blessed by the fruits of the earth and the work of farmworkers. Farmworkers Feed the World!
Si se puede!
Tirso Moreno, FWAF Co-Founder [Retired]
Mission & Vision
The Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF) is a statewide, grassroots, community-based, non-profit, farmworker membership organization with over 10,000 Haitian, Hispanic, and African American members and five offices in the state of Florida with a 35 year history of working for social and environmental justice with farmworkers.
The Farmworker Association of Florida’s long-standing mission is to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities, to respond to and gain control over the social, political, economic, workplace, health, and environmental justice issues that impact their lives.
Our guiding vision is a social environment where farmworkers’ contribution, dignity, and worth are acknowledged, appreciated, and respected through economic, social, and environmental justice. This vision includes farmworkers being treated as equals, and not exploited and discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, gender, or immigrant or socioeconomic status.
In keeping true to the organization’s mission and guiding vision, FWAF’s core strategy is to help farmworkers realize and build upon their power to be effective agents of social and personal change by:
- Validating and strengthening the experiences, knowledge, and understanding of farmworkers
- Building farmworkers’ capacity to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives
- Building multiracial coalitions with other farmworker organizations promoting civic engagement and better working conditions
- Organizing around community and labor issues
- Raising consciousness about and advocating for farmworkers’ rights and justice
Toward this goal, FWAF’s programs and activities build leadership, civic engagement, and activist skills among low-income communities of color who are disproportionately
FWAF is a statewide organization with five offices in Florida. Each office was created based on work around natural disasters impacting farmworkers. Each area office’s work is community-driven and accountable to their base, with local leadership committees that steer the local work and the overall work of the organization. We are proud of and work to ensure that FWAF is an organization of, by, with, and for farmworkers.
For over a century, Central Florida was known for its acres and acres of citrus groves growing oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and other citrus fruits that were shipped around the state and around the country. The industry required the intensive labor of hard-working farmworkers to hand harvest the crops each year during the long citrus growing season.
In the mid-1980s, Central Florida experienced several devastating freezes that caused extensive damage to the citrus crop, leaving thousands of farmworkers without work or a way to make a living. Starting in Mascotte, south of Orlando, unemployed farmworkers came together and organized themselves to fight for disaster unemployment and other assistance to carry them through the period of the natural disaster. This was the seed for the formation of what came to be known as the Farmworker Association of Central Florida (FACF), established by the workers themselves in 1983. , In 1986, FACF was incorporated as a non-profit organization and an office was established in Apopka. At this time the workers expanded their organizing efforts to farmworkers in the fern-growing area of Pierson, FL, where a second office was set up in 1987.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew made a devastating sweep across South Florida, wreaking the heaviest damage on the then rural, agricultural
town of Homestead, which was unrecognizable in the aftermath of the storm. Organizers from FACF traveled to South Florida to reach out to farmworker families in remote, hard-to-reach areas, offering assistance to largely immigrant farmworkers, many of whom did not speak English and who had been overlooked by disaster assistance agencies. Because of the extent and level of devastation and destruction caused by the storm, the organization had an extended presence in the area, doing disaster assistance and response, and eventually establishing a permanent presence by opening a third office in Florida City and changing the name of the organization to the Farmworker Association of Florida.
Especially vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters, in 1995 farmworkers in the town of Bonita Springs in Southwest Florida experienced destructive flooding to their homes and the surrounding vegetable fields that resulted in temporary loss of work and put them at risk of homelessness. FWAF members responded by providing disaster outreach and response to the workers and building on already initiated organizing efforts in the area. In 1996 a fourth office was established in the nearby agricultural town of Immokalee.
The 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons once again brought damage to the state, this time hitting Florida’s east coast with powerful hurricane force winds and rain. FWAF mobilized people and resources to conduct disaster outreach, assistance and response efforts, working from a base in the citrus-growing town of Fellsmere. Developing relationships with the families and workers there, the town’s farmworker community members soon requested that the organization have an ongoing presence in their community, which led to FWAF establishing a fifth office there, in 2005.
By DALE FINLEY SLONGWHITE
THE HIGH COSTS OF CHEAP FOOD