The headquarters of the Farmworker Association of Florida is located in Apopka, Florida, just north of Orlando. Though now the second largest city in Orange County, Apopka was once a thriving rural, agricultural community that was supported by robust citrus and vegetable crop industries that depended on farmworker labor for food production. The city of Apopka today deems itself the “Indoor Foliage Capital of the World,” where the flourishing ornamental plant industry employs thousands of workers and is an economic engine for the city.
The Apopka FWAF office works with farmworkers and community members in Orange, Seminole, and Lake counties,
where the current agricultural crops include foliage, landscape and ornamental plants; citrus; vegetables; mushrooms; and, more recently, blueberries. Most of the community members are seasonal workers and live in the area with extended family year-round, though farmworkers that work in harvesting blueberries are generally migrant workers that travel with the seasons. There is a generations-old African American community of former farmworkers in the area, and a significant Hispanic population that is largely Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran, and a growing Haitian population that includes first, second, and third generation Haitians.
The area is also home to Lake Apopka, the most contaminated large lake in the state that experienced environmental degradation from the 1960s until 1998, due to fertilizer and pesticide run-off from some 20,000 acres of farmland on the lake’s north shore. When the farms were shut down by the state of Florida in 1996, approximately 3000 farmworkers lost their jobs, and some their homes. Since then, chronic health issues have been the major concern of the former Lake Apopka farmworkers due to decades of exposure to toxic pesticides. In addition, the tri-county area has a history of KKK activity that older residents remember and that still is present in the collective consciousness.
While FWAF’s main mission is to work for and with and among farmworkers, the increasing urbanization of the area means an increasing number of community members work in other industries, including landscaping, construction, hospitality, retail, and health care.
Apopka Area Office
1264 Apopka Boulevard
Apopka, FL 32703
Phone: (407) 886-5151
Fax: (407) 884-6644
By DALE FINLEY SLONGWHITE
THE HIGH COSTS OF CHEAP FOOD