First Decade: 1983 — 1992
Farmworkers in Mascotte (Orange County), with the support of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the Office for Farmworker Ministry, created the Farmworker Association of Central Florida to organize for better housing, wages, and working conditions. The headquarters was established in Apopka, and the name was later changed to the Farmworker Association of Florida, as the organization expanded across the state.
Established PEP Labor Crews, a citrus harvesting cooperative which was the first farmworker-owned cooperative, and which empowered farmworkers to negotiate their own contracts with growers/producers to ensure fair wages and working conditions.
The Farmworker Association of Central Florida became incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in the state.
Established the La Tienda ethnic food store in Apopka, which later expanded to two additional locations, in order to provide the farmworker community with access to their ethnic foods.
Three successful lawsuits initiated by the Farmworker Association resulted in coverage for fern cutters under the Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
Successfully advocated for the inclusion of fern cutters under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which provided a legalization opportunity for undocumented immigrants.
Established an office in Pierson, Volusia County, known as the Fern Capital of the World.
With Homes in Partnership, constructed the Las Alamedas low-income housing community in Apopka and the Comunicasa low-income rental housing in Groveland, which provided approximately 100 homes for seasonal farmworkers in Central Florida.
Helped to expand the Community Trust Federal Credit Union to Pierson.
Initiated an HIV prevention education project to reach high-risk individuals in Apopka and in surrounding farmworker communities.
Expanded La Tienda ethnic food store to the Pierson area office.
Participated in the First National People of Color and Indigenous People Environmental Leadership Summits. Participated in the Second Summit in 2002.
After Hurricane Andrew, conducted disaster response and relief to impacted farmworkers in remote, rural areas of Miami-Dade County, and subsequently established an office in Homestead.
Co-founded the Farmworker Health and Safety Institute to develop popular education pesticide safety trainings for farmworkers and to advocate for policy change to improve farmworkers’ working conditions.
Became a member of the Rural Coalition. Joined the Rural Coalition Board of Directors in 1997.
Second Decade: 1993 — 2002
Co-founded the Farmworker Network for Economic and Environmental Justice.
Established an office in Collier County to serve the areas of Bonita Springs and Immokalee.
Established the La Carreta Mexican restaurant in Apopka, an economic development initiative to provide ethnic food for the community.
Secured passage of the Florida Right-to-Know Law, which gave farmworkers the right to information about pesticides used in the workplace.
Began implementation of the Sisters/Compañeras Project, a healthy pregnancy and women’s health education project for at-risk, low-income women in the Apopka area, as well as other farmworker communities in later years.
Following significant disaster response and relief to farmworker communities impacted by severe flooding, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against Lee County for discrimination, and ultimately won a change of zoning to allow the construction of a farmworker rental housing complex, Pueblo Bonito, in Bonita Springs.
Helped to expand the Community Trust Federal Credit Union and expanded FWAF’s La Tienda ethnic food store to the Everglades Village labor camp in Florida City.
Initiated the Minority Farmworkers/Farmers Exchange Project, which created a mutually beneficial partnership among Latino farmworkers in Florida and African-American farmers in Arkansas.
Partnered with a research scientist on the Neurobehavioral Performance in Farmworkers, a study of cognitive and psychomotor function in farmworkers. This project began FWAF’s participation in community-based participatory research projects with academic partners.
Co-founded the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a statewide immigrants’ rights action and advocacy network.FWAF continues to serve on the Board of FLIC.
Co-founded Southern Partners Fund, a social justice foundation committed to supporting rural communities in the southeastern United States. FWAF continues to serve on the Board of SPF.
Initiated the Lake Apopka Dislocated Workers Project, after the farms around Lake Apopka were closed for environmental restoration of the lake and surrounding areas, which outreached to over 1,200 farmworkers to address re-training/re-employment needs. FWAF also secured relocation assistance for approximately 70 dislocated farmworker families who lived in company housing.
Partnered in a community/ academic research project, Together for Agricultural Safety, with the University of Florida, which focused on the hand-washing behaviors of nursery and fernery workers in Apopka and Pierson.
Began the Farmworker Vocational Rehabilitation Project in Apopka, which helps injured farmworkers to access educational and medical resources.
Co-coordinated the Sustainable Tomatoes Campaign, in collaboration with Friends of the Earth, Farmworkers Self-Help, and Florida Consumer Action Network, to raise awareness about the dangers of methyl bromide and to advocate for banning the use of methyl bromide.
Participated in the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, which took place in South Africa.
Secured passage of the Farm Labor Contractor Law, which made it illegal for crew leaders to charge workers for tools and supplies needed to perform the job.
Partnered in a community/ academic research project, the Partnership for Citrus Worker Health, with the University of South Florida/Prevention Research Center, which focused on preventing eye injuries among citrus pickers in south and southwest Florida.
Third Decade: 2003 — 2012
Began working in Fellsmere, Indian River County, in response to hurricane damage to farmworker housing and employment. Fellsmere was adopted as an official chapter of FWAF in 2008.
Secured passage by the Florida state legislature of the reinstatement of the Florida Right-to-Know Law, also known as the Alfredo Bahena Act.
Conducted a community-generated health survey with nearly 150 former Lake Apopka farmworkers to document and address their environmental health issues.
2005 & ’07
Participated in World Social Forums in Brazil and Africa.
Conducted the first of many trainings for health care providers on the identification, diagnosis, treatment and reporting of pesticide-related illness in farmworker communities. More than 300 health care providers have been trained.
Secured passage of the Farmworker Transportation Safety Act, which requires seatbelts in mini-vans used as farmworker passenger vehicles.
In solidarity with the nationwide immigrants’ rights movement, organized the May 1st Immigrants’ Rights Rally in downtown Orlando with more than 20,000 participants, the largest rally ever in the city of Orlando.
Joined the Board of Directors of the Domestic Fair Trade Association; and joined the Advisory Committee of the Agricultural Justice Project in 2009.
Participated in the first U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia.
Organized voters in Fellsmere to change the composition of the local government to better represent the needs and concerns of minority, low-income community members.
Hosted the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants at the FWAF office in Immokalee, and organized community members to give testimony about human rights abuses, along with testimony from allied organizations.
Presented testimony to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia & Other Forms of Related Intolerance about environmental injustice and the discriminatory nature of farmworkers’ exposures to pesticides.
Became a ratified member of La Via Campesina, an international movement of farmworkers, farmers, peasants, and landless peoples, and began participating in La Via Campesina’s North American and International conferences.
Implemented the Latino Small Farmers Initiative, which provided education and technical assistance to Latino immigrant small farmers in Pierson and Homestead to improve their farm operations and business opportunities.
Operated the Youth Empowerment Program, an HIV prevention education program with Latino and Haitian youth and parents in Central and South Florida.
Began a community/academic research project partnership with Emory University, Reproductive Health in Farmworker Women, which focuses on the impacts of farm work on pregnancy.
Initiated the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilts Project, which has included the creation of two vibrant quilts to memorialize farmworkers who worked on the farms of Lake Apopka.
Defeated the Homestead Housing Authority’s efforts to close a migrant student after school and summer program.
Initiated the Fellsmere Community Garden, a chemical-free community garden project by and for farmworker families.
Initiated the Apopka Community Food Assessment to research barriers to low-income families’ access to and consumption of fresh foods.
Submitted testimony to the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT—an international people’s court) in India, detailing the history of the former Lake Apopka farmworkers, their health problems, and the use of chemical pesticides on the Lake Apopka vegetable farms, which resulted in pollution of the lake, alligator deformities, a massive bird kill, and remaining toxic hot spots.
Joined the Food Chain Workers Alliance.
Constructed and opened the Farmworker Disaster Storage Center at the FWAF office in Pierson.
Over the previous approximate 15 years, trained more than 5,000 farmworkers on workplace safety and exposure to pesticides.
By DALE FINLEY SLONGWHITE
THE HIGH COSTS OF CHEAP FOOD
“The Lake Apopka survivors are claiming justice, and their plight, long-time forgotten, is beginning to resonate across international borders.” — Chela Vazquez, Campaign Coordinator, Pesticide Action Network North America
Published by the University Press of Florida.