Friday, October 26, 2007

Meeting with Lariza Garzon

Today Rachel and I met with Lariza Garzon of the National Farm Worker Ministry. Lariza’s position focuses on connecting students and college student organizations with issues surrounding farmworkers. We are particularly excited about working with Lariza because she has a lot of great ideas about how to connect Rollins with farmworker concerns, such as bringing in speakers, showing films, developing alternative spring break programs, and starting an internship with the Farm Worker Ministry. In our meeting today we talked about ways to get students directly involved with matters concerning farmworker safety and treatment, such as the upcoming trip to Miami to protest Burger King. Burger King, like other fast food restaurants, purchases tomatoes from growers who do not pay fair wages to their workers. For more information visit the blog from Our meeting today raised our energy about getting more students active and excited about farmworker justice—we’re spreading the word in Central Florida!

Monday, August 27, 2007

follow-up healthcare meeting

Today I went to a follow-up meeting about healthcare in Apopka, sponsored again by the Orange County Health Department. The meeting started out with about a fourth of those who were present at the last one. Attendees included a representative of a local nonprofit offering healthcare for the uninsured, a few reps from Florida Hospital, the two women from OCHD who have been working on the Apopka project in their spare time, (including Nina Cooper, summer intern who's doing a master's in public health out in California, who will be missed) and, a little later into the meeting, a few community members and Jeannie from the Farmworkers Association. Geraldean Matthew spoke eloquently on behalf of the community- she wasn't able to make the last meeting (she recently learned she needs a kidney transplant), and she has so much presence that whenever she talks people are spellbound. She's a tireless community activist, but her health issues are starting to get in the way. A few highlights:

- Nina shared with me that St. John's River Management has decided Apopka is no longer polluted, so this may mean a loss of funding. OCHD has hired some toxicologists to confirm this report.

- The problem of access to fresh produce: Nina and Michele (OCHD) have been in talks with LYNX about getting buses to go to a Publix or to cross the street to the Super WalMart-- the bus now stops on the other side of the busy stretch of 441, which would be impossible to cross in time unless you were a marathon runner.

- The Apopka community clinic director has been approached about keeping the clinic open and reserving one night each week for this particular population of farmworkers (again, many of them need MUCH more than a visit to a general practitioner-- they need specialists, endocrinologists, etc)

- Nolan & I are invited to take part in talks with Florida Hospital about setting up some health seminars... which we're working on... trying to tap into the expertise of many of our colleagues at Rollins.

- The Apopka community members voiced their frustrations about outsiders starting little programs only to disappear and never be heard from again. They reiterated that many of their community members are dying. Geraldean spoke of the difficulty in getting healthcare-- once you get ON Medicaid, you're limited in the choice of doctors-- very few doctors want to be a part of the Medicaid plans because they don't get paid much by the government to see Medicaid patients, so there are no financial incentives. In particular this is true of specialists, so sometimes the only specialist who can serve as a Medicaid provider will be in Tampa. This is a huge systemic problem. Think Michael Moore's "Sicko..."

- If you build it, they will come... but not necessarily. On the hospital side of things, representatives feel like they have a hard time getting community members to attend anything. There was a lot of talk about how to "Get the word out" about community meetings-- churches, flyers at a furniture store where people cash their social security checks, a fish market people frequent.

- Geraldean talked about the need for health education-- she seemed to like the idea of healthcare seminars, and the possibility of having someone to talk about issues such as the best way to choose a healthcare provider, manage diabetes, eat healthfully... She was tired, though, of being blamed for bad nutritional habits. All the former farmworkers said they used to eat nothing but fish from Lake Apopka and fresh vegetables from the farms, which they took home with them every day.... and look where this got them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

News Article

From the Bradenton Herald, Aug. 11, 2007. The more things change...
Farmworkers tell EPA about chemicals

It was the end of a long day in 2004, and Olga was tired.
So the farmworker sat down in the middle of a field layered in plastic at one of the expansive farms outside Bradenton.

Later, her buttocks tingled. Hoping to ease the burn, she showered, but the water only made it worse, popping up blisters everywhere that began to burst and form again.

Olga, who is in the country illegally and did not want her last name used, went to a local hospital, where a doctor asked her what chemical she had worked with that day.

But she didn't know - all she knew was she was supposed to walk behind the truck that sprayed the "gas," as Olga called it.

After a night in the hospital, Olga, who did similar work for six years in and around Arcadia and Myakka City, was left with a hospital bill because of her second- and third-degree chemical burns. Her empl- oyer refused to pay.

Olga's story was one of many heard Friday by Environmental Protection Agency representatives visiting Wim- auma. The agency is proposing restrictions on fumigant use, including methyl bromide, which burned Olga.

"They did nothing to tell us the chemicals were dangerous," she said in Spanish, breaking down into tears. "And I have two sons and no husband. They didn't give me a check, nothing."

Fumigants are sprayed onto fields followed by a layer of plastic. A farmworker often drives a truck that sprays the chemical, followed by another farmworker who helps lay out the plastic and finally others who cut the plastic.

Included in the EPA's proposal are ways to restrict farmworker exposure, such as the timing of application, providing air-purifying respirators, use of machines to do the job and other methods.

Farmers in June spoke to EPA officials at a Fort Myers meeting, as part of the same effort by the agency to hear public comment on its proposal.

Growers there said restricting such fumigants would kill the agriculture industry in Florida, and if applied correctly, there is no harm, according to Herald archives.

Comments are being heard by EPA officials until Sept. 3, and a final decision is expected in late November.

"We don't want to see agriculture end in Florida," said Jeannie Economos, with The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc. "We just want to see agriculture where the workers' health is as important as the environment and as important as the consumers."

Farmworker advocate groups say workers are not adequately educated on the dangers of fumigants, especially methyl bromide. They say workers are not trained and often do not receive protective gear.

Those protections need to be enforced, farmworker advocates say, or there should be a complete ban on methyl bromide.

"They are all being directly exposed to this toxic chemical," said Soli Mercado, a staff attorney with Florida Rural Legal Services. "What's the point of making all these regulations and they're not being followed?"

Olga and other farmworkers said Friday they received little to no training on fumigants.

"You don't see the farmer out there," said James Brown, with Farmworkers Self-Help Inc. "He's, in a lot of cases, not even monitoring if it's safe."

Bertin Cruz, a former farmworker in the Immokalee area, said he worked for eight to 10 years in tomato fields laying plastic treated with chemicals.

He complained to a supervisor one day, Cruz said, that he wasn't feeling good. Cruz said the supervisor asked him, "Are you a man? Because men just take it."

When inspectors came to the field, Cruz said, workers were told to leave for hours until the inspector left.

"It's incredible," he told EPA officials in Spanish.

Pedro Lopez currently works near Immokalee cutting plastic layers. He said training for the job consisted of making sure to wear glasses and wash your hands before eating.

"When the gas is too strong or the heat gets to 95 degrees, it gets worse," he said in Spanish.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Photos from Interviews and Toxic Tour

A portrait of Martin Luther King, inside one of the homes of a woman we interviewed--a symbol of hope during an era of oppression.

A pig farm bordering the dump and neighboring an Apopka home.

One of the homes of Apopka; if you look closely behind the red SUV you can notice the hill of a landfill nearby. Many homes share the landfill for a backyard. It used to be all exposed trash, but recently received grass covering from a nearby dig site.

This dig site supplied dirt and grass to cover the eyesore of the Lake Jewel Dump that borders several Apopka homes.

An Apopka home near the dump site.

Magnolia Park boat ramp with recent documents about lake health and safety.

Toxic Tour

In addition to our interviews on Friday, Jeannie, Geraldean, Nolan, and I drove around in the Farmworkers' Association van with Nina and Michele from the Orange County Health Department, on what Jeannie was calling a "Toxic Tour of Apopka." Geraldean narrated the landscape through the pouring rain, pointing out houses of recently deceased farmworkers, or orange groves where young girls ran (and, some say, still run, for the Hispanic farmworker population) from cruel overseers to avoid sexual assault.

Apopka strikes visitors first and foremost with its rural character-- just twelve miles north of Orlando, patchy efforts at upscale development lie interspersed with old farmland and weed-choked wilderness that reminds me much more of the South Carolina I grew up in than Florida. The farms, abandoned in 1998, still offer evidence of their existence-- the illegally buried pesticide containers that rise to the surface during periods of intense rainfall, or roads set back from Highway 441 that lead through orange groves and sod farms to land that is being "reclaimed" for wetlands. Like buried landmines, everywhere there are signs reminding people that pesticides are still in the soil, and that hunting or fishing are activities not to be undertaken, yet this is too little, too late for the people who worked the land for so long, toiling in the fields as the fine mist of organo-chlorines wafted over their faces from planes high above.

On Sunday we interviewed a woman who worked the farms back in the 1950s and 1960s, always wearing a hat to protect her face, even though supposedly nobody knew back then, no employer or crew supervisor informed them that they should leave the fields. Her face was smooth, nut-brown, almost unlined for a 77 year-old woman, but her arms and legs bore the strange, patchy discoloration symptomatic of pesticide-related skin disorders. "I was always vain about my face," she told us. And in many ways, her story was all too familiar: diabetes, inexplicable and painful skin conditions, arthritis, children and grandchildren with excessive numbers of allergies, learning disabilities, lupus. Slightly less than half of her children she buried before her. She didn't go into the reasons why.

Interview at Edna's House

On Thursday Rachel, Jeannie and I visited the home of Edna, a widow to a former Apopka farmwoker. Edna waited for us expectantly and greeted us with a motherly smile. “C’mon, “C’mon in!” She repeated from the timid and worn wooden stairs outside her front door, waving to us in her pink floral dress and gold bejeweled sandals. Edna walked Rachel, Jeannie, and I into her home after greeting us warmly on the wooden stairs built on top of her overgrown yard. Meeting her was like reuniting with a relative or an old friend; someone we hadn’t seen in years but managed to somehow keep in touch. Edna left a comb in her smoothed hair and invited us to sit down in the front room of her home. The small room was outfitted with two worn couches and a small television. One wall was covered with wood-grain shelving paper, while the others were a faded dull yellow with occasional cracks and holes. Various knickknacks and decorative elements filled the room for a more personal touch; a lamp missing a lampshade adorned a small side table, and the seats of the couches were covered with pillowcases to hide their wear. The walls featured pictures of relatives and a canvass of a waterfall.

Once settled and after figuring out how to operate the video camera, we asked Edna to tell us her story. She began by telling us about her husband, who had worked on farms since he was a young boy, and suffered a stroke late in his life. After speaking for only a short while two of her daughters, Whitney and Sandra, entered the house and sat with us. Whitney and Sandra were more emotionally charged than Edna; a lifetime of hardship left them outraged with their country, questioning how such a wealthy nation could have such poverty and little assistance for those in need. Whitney and Sandra picked up where Edna left us, describing their father’s and their own skin problems from contact with pesticides, and their lack of medical care. Whitney and Sandra suffer from serious medical problems but cannot find treatment because of the overcrowded dental clinics and limited expertise of the health clinic. Sandra’s children also need specialist attention as they have behavior issues such as difficulty with anger management and A.D.D.

As health concerns of this community become increasingly apparent, so do serious social concerns. Whitney and Sandra are not eligible for Medicaid—the $323 a week Sandra earns is too much money for assistance. Frustrated for having worked her entire life and having only a stack of medical bills to show for it, Whitney began to cry. “Our daddy spent his whole life working on the farms, and we have nothing to show for it.” At that moment I realized the extent of the hardship these women had faced. Edna’s outlook on life was slightly more positive because of her faith in God, it kept her strong in difficult times, especially while taking care of her husband after she suffered from an aneurism.

When we got up to leave we all hugged and Edna, Whitney, and Sandra thanked us for listening to them. We told them we were happy to listen but we want to do more—we want to take action to help end their suffering and marginalization. As we walked out the door and onto the damp wooden stairs, we could hear Edna’s motherly voice behind us.
“Hold on to the handrail now!” Edna said gently, expressing her concern for our safety, as if guiding a child through a treacherous path. I felt regardless of age or how long one knew Edna, she considered everyone her children, and looked after them accordingly. How is it a mother to everyone she meets cannot get a larger system of support for herself?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Orange County Health Department

Geraldean Matthews was originally the one in charge of the Pace grant that Michelle is taking over for the Orange County Health Department, but apparently Geraldean's health has not been good these days. As Nolan points out, it's interesting that Michelle's job is concerned with inspections-- inspecting the sanitary conditions of public pools and food sites (say, where a day camp feeds kids). It sounds like Apopka was tacked on to her existing job duties-- yet another example of how people already overworked and doing multiple other projects have to work on Apopka as a side project. Orange County also seems very interested in the Parks & Recreation aspect of Apopka-- no green space-- but Jeannie pushed for the healthcare agenda, and Michelle seemed to be listening. We've got another meeting next week with some "key players" in Apopka and in OCHD to discuss this-- it's exciting that Jeannie has been able to bring us to the table with these issues.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Meeting with the Orange County Health Department

Last Thursday we met Jeannie at the Orange County Health Department office to meet with officials and discuss the problem in Apopka. We arrived earlier than Jeannie, which allowed us time for noting ethnographic details. Department of Health is located in a building adjacent to the EPA office, and is accessible only after driving through the EPA parking lot. The two parking lots are divided by a tall chain-link fence, featuring a gate that allows for one narrow entrance and exit to the OCHD parking lot. The limited access, tall chain-link fence, and dismal low-stature building contributed to an aura reminiscent of a rundown dentition center. It was also alarmingly ironic that the offices lacked landscaping, but instead featured palm trees sprinkled throughout small patches of grass preserved among the vast paved parking lot.

Shortly after entering the building, a diesel truck parked outside the office. This was a standard size Ford truck, but I could tell by the sound of the engine it ran on diesel fuel, and upon deducing this I realized the man had left his truck running while waiting inside. Rachel and I were both disgusted—here we were in the Health Department office, next to the Environmental Protection Agency office, while one man simultaneously wasted natural resources, money, polluted the environment, and endangered the health of others. We pointed out this inconsiderate wastefulness to Jeannie when she arrived.

Once Jeannie arrived our meeting began. We met with Michelle, an environmental specialist, and Nina, a Masters Degree student working in the office. Michelle, though generally lowkey, seemed extremely interested in the project. She was not aware of the conditions in Apopka, and from her job description had very little extra time to learn about community issues. Michelle and Nina are both inspectors, but have been assigned to the Apopka case in addition to their regular duties; as with the Farmworkers Association, it seems there are few staff members, and a multitude of concerns worth addressing, causing the few involved people to become overextended in their efforts. After meeting for nearly two hours, we decided to set up meeting to take a “toxic tour” of Apopka, driving around all of the pollution sites, and setting up a community meeting to discuss healthcare endeavors. We look forward to the tour this Wednesday.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Initial Contact

This past week we have made some very exciting initial contacts. We spoke to a person from TAP-IN, the organization that matches retired hospital staff with free clinics, and even though the organization is not yet in Florida, they hope to enter the state in 2009. We spoke to Dr. Bill Staub, who was able to give us a lead on an organization that constructs and organizes free clinics called the Volunteers in Medicine Institute.

I also made contact with a woman from Orange Regional Medical Center, one of the largest hospital networks in Central Florida. I spoke with a woman named Geeta, who was very nice but very unaware of the health problems the former farmworkers faced, and was quick to dismiss the urgency of this problem. She assumed the clinic in Apopka was sufficient both in treatment and price regulation, and felt Florida Hospital had several branches in Apopka. After explaining more, she became slightly less dismissive, and asked me to send her more information. She also explained ORMC is not for profit hospital, making it a healthcare system willing to reach out to communities, however, getting their assistance is very competitive as many communities plead their cases for help. Geeta was also confused by how a collaborative project between ORMC, Rollins College, and The Farmworkers Association of Apopka may work. I will have to find examples of such models to send to her.

Overall we are making great first steps towards progress. I hope one of our contacts leads us somewhere!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pondering Non-Profits and Organizing the Next Step

During our last meeting with Jeannie we listened in on conference call with representatives from other non-profit organizations. The phone call lasted over an hour, and it became evident to me why some organizations may have difficult making progress or getting organized. Many of the people on the telephone were reluctant to make decisions or offer advice, they insisted on clearing these actions with organization leaders. I found this to be a rather curious scenario: many non-profits revolve around helping the powerless, yet it seemed employees of the organizations were unsure of their own power or uncomfortable making decisions. I also began to wonder of the effectiveness of a non-profit if a large hierarchy exists; then again structure is always necessary for any organization to run efficiently.

After the telephone call Jeannie suggested we begin contacting local hospitals and finding information about options for bringing specialists to the Apopka community. General medical care already exists in the community (though it could certainly use great improvement). Although a clinic is located in Apopka, it does not offer the specialist attention desperately needed. General practitioners and their facilities are not equipped to deal with lupus, cancer, severe skin disorders, and the various other medical concerns of the Apopka farmworkers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Prevention of Occupational Health Hazards in Other Regions

As we wait to hear back from officials at Tap-IN and CARE, we have continued to research similar projects to find inspiration for a solution. An anthropologist named Thomas Arcury has done a lot of work surrounding Latino and African American Farmworkers. He has written several articles about his work, which focuses a great deal around North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and the Midwest. In one of his articles, Arcury addresses preventive measures African American farmworkers take to avoid injuries while on the job. Interestingly, Arcury writes that many workers already have preventative knowledge, information that was noticeably absent to Apopka farmworkers. In regards to chemical use, one informant tells Arcury about protective clothing the workers wear. “They wear the gloves, the cap, and they put on the coveralls. And then they go on and after they spray the tobacco, well then I think it’s three days you don’t go in it under three days. You know, you have to stay out of it, out of the crop” (1997, 171). This scenario is drastically different from the Apopka farmworkers who worked in fields recently sprayed with pesticides, attributing to their multiple skin problems. Apopka farmworkers were so unaware of the hazards of their work that they often used old drums once containing pesticides as converted grills to cook food. This discrepancy of information also raises a great deal of questions, such as why was this information not reaching Apopka farmworkers? Who is responsible for insuring farmworker safety: the individual worker, the farm, or a government agency?

The Farmworkers Association of Florida had managed programs about occupational hazards associated with being a farmworker, but were those programs well received? Arcury makes note of some workers who avoided necessary precautions when using machinery because of resistance to change or not wanting to spend extra money to make the equipment safer (1997, 170.). As we learn more about the situation in Apopka it becomes increasingly clear how this population has been forgotten and left behind in various ways.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

moving forward, part II

I think I'm most excited about the idea Nolan uncovered of connecting area seniors who are retired doctors with people in need of health care-- what a great program, especially since there are a lot of retirees in this area. But I'm also encouraged by how enthusiastic many of my colleagues at Rollins College are. If we were all focusing on Apopka's problems in our classes and creating sustainable partnerships with the Farmworkers' Association, think of how much we could accomplish...

Already professors in the areas of anthropology, environmental studies, history, and chemistry have expressed an interest in helping out... so getting this to translate into some form of action is the next goal. Jeannie also said she would arrange a meeting with the community to see how they felt about the next steps for proceeding. I've been in touch with some of the people from the EPA whom we met at the conference last week, who have been very positive about the availability of grants and the possibility of a larger collaboration there.

Community problem solving... a concept some anthropologists would be skeptical of (since it often involves collaboration among parties anthropologists normally are critical of-- such as industry or government), but let's see what we come up with.

Discussing How to Move Forward with Jeannie Economos

In our most recent meeting with Jeannie Economos we discussed ways to move forward with the research. Now looking for ways to benefit the community of Apopka, we must first decide how to approach the situation. There are a great deal of issues to tackle, and it may be best to approach them each individually, or attempt to create a comprehensive program like the ReGenesis Project in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Two communities of Spartanburg, the neighborhoods of Arkwright and Forest Park, faced problems similar to Apopka including environmental issues, substandard housing, poor access to health care, etc. By establishing a collaborative relationship with community partners and the government, the ReGenesis project collected several grants to help revitalize the communities through Brownfield redevelopment and replacing inadequate housing.

Although there are many problems in Apopka, we are still dedicated to helping the former farmworkers find health care. One exciting health care program in North Carolina matches senior or retired healthcare staff with free clinics to volunteer their services. The organization, Tap-in, is not in Florida, but would be a great way to start a free healthcare program for the farmworkers. Jeannie had also mentioned Geraldean’s idea of contacting Orange County about unused portable classroom trailers at a local school. These trailers could be used for after school programs for children, and if possible, we could implement the Tap-in idea with retired teachers and childcare professionals to volunteer for the programs. The trailers could even possibly function as temporary health services if we found retired doctors willing to donate their time. The myriad possibilities are very exciting.

Another idea Jeannie had was the community center’s lack of exercise equipment. She felt a place for adults to exercise would be a good addition to the community center, so at this point finding used or donated exercise equipment seems like another contribution we can make. Overall there is a multitude of ways to approach some of the issues surrounding the lives of the forgotten farmworkers of Apopka, but it is difficult narrowing down the best way to start progressive change.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

EPA Environmental Justice Conference

This is Geraldean Matthew, our main informant and community activist for the farmworkers of Apopka. Along with Farmworkers' Association representative Jeannie Economos and anthropologist Ron Habin, she addressed the audience at the EPA environmental justice conference we attended on Tuesday. Geraldean is a tireless activist and has the trust of her community. She is also an amazing speaker and a charismatic woman who has a lot of interesting stories to tell. She told us of storing her daughters' hair barrettes in a container that had once contained pesticides and always wondering why her daughter's hair would fall out. In the past when workers didn't know the dangers of contamination, they used the containers to store flour, clothes, and other household items. She also spoke of many of the pressing social issues facing south Apopka-- drugs, crime, a lack of economic opportunities and insufficient parental involvement.

One idea from the conference came from a session I attended on a community in Spartanburg, South Carolina (my home state), where residents lived for years near a chemical plant that once manufactured pesticides. A man named Harold Mitchell (who is now a state representative) began to wonder why people were getting sick and started to take action. He found that the former chemical plant hadn't disposed properly of its pesticides, but like Apopka, there were other issues at play as well. Through over ten years of work in applying for EPA grants, HUD grants, and doing other grassroots organizing, the community now has affordable housing, green space, and a multimillion dollar health center. You can read more about how this all happened here. Inspiring, nonetheless, to envision a large-scale transformation like this in Apopka.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

EPA Community Involvement Training Conference

Today marked the first day of sessions for the 2007 EPA Community Training Conference. Jeannie and Geraldine, the former farmworker we had made contact with months earlier, presented at the conference and were kind enough to let us join them. Also joining them was local Anthropologist Ron Habin, who has been very involved in collecting data about the farmworkers and their health concerns. You can view the conference booklet and the abstract for their session here.

It was nice to see so many government employees dedicated to improving local communities and providing funding for meaningful projects. One particular program, Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE), provides funding for non-profits to partner with various community organizations to reduce pollution in a community. CARE has funded projects such as Safe Shops in Boston and the Health Nail Salon Initiative in Washington State. Safe Shops works with government agencies, vocational schools, and other non-profits to reduce the occupational hazards associated with auto shops, and reduce pollution caused by such businesses. The Health Nail Salon Initiative strives for similar results, given that nail polish is a toxic substance, especially when surrounded by it for up to ten hours a day.

Overall a lot of great ideas were bouncing around and could potentially relate to a brighter future for Apopka. With a CARE grant it would be possible to realize an idea we had been discussing; removing trash from empty land in Apopka and creating green space for its citizens, particularly for children and young men. Many citizens of Apopka feel there should be more activities for children, in part to keep them from selling drugs and off the streets at night.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Information about Lake Apopka

As the photographs show, Lake Apopka is an expansive body of water, but was once much larger than it is today. Formally known as bass fishing paradise, Lake Apopka has drastically changed since the 1940s. Much of the lake was drained in the 1940s to allow for farming and aid in the war effort. When farmers flooded their land to control weed growth, phosphorus and pesticides drained into the lake, contributing to the existing contamination of orange pulp from the citrus industry and sewage from the City of Winter Garden. While the clean air and water of act of the 1970s prevented sewage and orange pulp from entering the lake, by the 1980s farmers averaged 5 million gallons of waste a day. In 1998 the state of Florida spent nearly $100 million to buy 14,000 acres of farmland and restore it to the lake. Rather than draining the fields as farmers had done in the past, the state allowed water to stand, attracting a large number of birds to the area. Within weeks over 1,000 birds died, including white pelicans, wood storks, and bald eagles. 
Above: A bird stands near the shore of Lake Apopka in Winter Garden. Right: Lake Apopka boat ramp access from Magnolia Park, Apopka.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Meeting with Jeannie Economos

We had our second meeting today with Jeannie at the Farmworkers Association. Although we've been doing preliminary research for a couple months now, it wasn't until our first meeting with Jeannie that we began to get a clear idea of the shape our project would take. Our original intentions were to focus on healthcare access among Hispanic immigrants, particularly migrant workers. A few months ago, we helped a former farmworker-turned-activist named Geraldine Matthews conduct surveys in South Apopka about the needs of the local community-- mostly African-American former farmworkers who lost their jobs in the mid 1990s when the farms around Lake Apopka were finally shut down.

Our foray into that community was sobering-- social clubs in tin shacks swarmed by mosquitoes, dirt floors, dirt roads, people who did not look like they were in good health. We continued to think our project would focus on Hispanics, but in our first official meeting with Jeannie it became clear the need was elsewhere. Although the situation is still not ideal for the people farming now (average yearly wages of $7,500-10,000, exposure to pesticides, illegal status, etc), there are a number of projects focused on them, while the African-American farmworkers have been forgotten. They've been, in Jeannie's words, "surveyed to death," and what they need now is action. An article about the issues they face, which features Geraldine Matthews herself, can be found on this Oxfam site. Years of exposure to pesticides have led to high rates of health problems like lupus, diabetes, infertility, birth defects, arthritis, and cancers. They have little access to specialists treating these disorders. Our goal, in addition to conducting an ethnography of this community and exploring the issues it faces, will be to start some sort of healthcare program that might address at least one of these issues.

Some pesticides are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, meaning that they mimic the effect of hormones in the body, sending mixed messages that can particuarly be harmful during prenatal development. See this website if you want to know more about how it works. While the effect on an end consumer of an apple might be minor, it can be debilitating for those who have to work around these chemicals on a regular basis.