In 1995, the largely farmworker town of Bonita Springs was hit with a devastating flood. Residing in the most vulnerable areas and with already inadequate housing, farmworkers in the area were seriously impacted by the natural disaster. While FWAF had already been organizing workers in the neighboring Immokalee, the disaster response efforts by FWAF to address the hardships of the Bonita Springs farmworkers led FWAF to establish a more permanent presence in the town of Immokalee, from which organizers could work also with the surrounding communities of LaBelle, Belle Glade and others.
A unique place, home to thousands of immigrant and migrant workers – Hispanic, Haitian, and African-American – Immokalee has seen some improvements since the days when it was the feature story of a series of articles on the severe poverty and discrimination that characterized the town. Now, various churches, health and service organizations have a presence in the community and help to provide some of the needed services, assistance, informational and educational needs of the population.
East and south of Immokalee lie sprawling miles and miles of sugar cane plantations that once employed tens of thousands of workers, mainly African-American and Caribbean, but the sugar cane harvest has since become largely mechanized, leaving little need for hand labor, except in the packinghouses and processing plants. North and east of Immokalee continues to support citrus crop production, but the main crops in and around Immokalee today are vegetable crops, mostly tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers.
Immokalee gained unfortunate national attention in 2005 when Carlitos, a baby born with no arms or legs, was born to a farmworker mother who worked at AgMart Farms during her pregnancy. Carlitos’ image was televised around the country, and troubling questions were raised when, soon afterwards, two other babies with severe birth defects were born to farmworker women working at the same farm and who had also been exposed to pesticides while pregnant. Staff in Immokalee continue to conduct pesticide health and safety trainings with farmworkers in the area to help them recognize the risks of exposure to pesticides, how to protect themselves, and what their rights are under current regulations.
The Citrus Workers Project was also born in Immokalee. Created to address the most common cause of injury to citrus workers – eye injuries – the project trains camp health aides, or promotores, to administer first aid in case of eye injury in the field and to encourage workers to wear protective eye glasses to protect themselves from injury. The success of the project in Immokalee has translated into the program expanding into other areas of the state.
Immokalee, FL 34142
Phone: (863) 885-9484
Fax: (407) 884-6644
Programs in the Immokalee Office include:
- Vocational Rehabilitation
- Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health
- Immigrants’ and Workers’ Rights
- Civic Engagement and Civic Participation
- Saw Palmetto Berries
By DALE FINLEY SLONGWHITE
THE HIGH COSTS OF CHEAP FOOD