By: Kristen Fedie
The longstanding mission of the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF) “is to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities to respond to and gain control over the social, political, workplace, economic, health, and environmental justice issues that impact their lives” (floridafarmworkers.org). The FWAF has done just that. The FWAF began in 1986 and expanded statewide in 1992; today, the organization has more than 8,000 member families and five locations throughout Central Florida.
For over 25 years, the FWAF has worked diligently to secure social, economic, and environmental justice for Florida’s vast farmworker population. The organization has numerous projects addressing such issues as worker justice, immigrant rights, and health education: “Through education and community organizing, the FWAF works to improve farmworkers’ health, working conditions, and access to quality health care; raise awareness of the harmful effects of toxic pesticides; and influence policy related to health and safety protections for farmworkers” (floridafarmworkers.org).
In addition to the social, economic, and environmental changes that the FWAF has been able to implement throughout Florida, the organization has also addressed issues of food security, issues that far too often affect the farmworker community. In 2011, the FWAF developed a community garden project in Fellsmere, an area devastated by hurricanes in 2004.
An overwhelming majority of families in Fellsmere, a landscape covered in citrus groves, are employed as farmworkers in the citrus industry, in the groves and packing houses. Composed of both documented and undocumented workers, Fellsmere is similar to many other farming communities; however, the community also consists of mainly established families. Many own their own homes and have children enrolled in local schools.
The Fellsmere garden, founded on city owned property, provides the community with not only fresh foods to eat but also a growing sense of accomplishment and a place of relaxation. Currently, the garden is providing the community with numerous fruits and vegetables, some of which include: cilantro, romaine lettuce, radishes, sweet potatoes, collard greens, beans, corn, and tomatoes. Additionally, the garden hosts a special section for herbs, a small house in which to store seedlings, and a water pump.
The garden is becoming an increasingly popular community project, “Area ranchers are offering free cow and horse manure to use as fertilizer on the newly developed raised beds. And, community members are learning to convert their household food scraps into compost for the garden” (floridafarmworkers.org). Additionally, volunteers, such as those from YAYA, the Youth & Young Adult Network of the National Farm Worker Ministry, have contributed to the success of the Fellsmere Community Garden through assisting with clearing, weeding, and planting.
Although a work in progress, the Fellsmere Community Garden, is a thriving symbol of the community in which it feeds. According to Angela Smith, “Food grown in the first garden by about a dozen families over the past two years has helped supplement meals for them as well as numerous needy families around the city” (www.tcpalm.com). The Fellsmere Community Garden is the pride of the community, a success story of a farmworkers becoming empowered and taking control of their situation. The Fellsmere Community has quickly become a place of togetherness and collaboration, a place for not only fun but also education.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the project has expanded. In 2012, in an effort to provide more families with nutritional food options, the FWAF started another community garden in Fellsmere. The second garden, situated in a once vacant lot, will provide food for more local families this coming spring. Additionally, the new garden will have a section specifically for the students of Fellsmere Elementary School. The Fellsmere Community Garden project may only be in its infancy, but offers both hope and insight into how a community supported garden project can quickly thrive.
For some pictures and more insight into the many ways in which the FWAF is working to make a difference in the lives of farmworkers, check out the organization’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Farmworkers-Association-of-Florida/178528631690!
Farmworker Association of Florida. Web. 27 March 2013. <http://www.floridafarmworkers.org.>
Smith, Angela. “Fellsmere’s 2nd community garden will help feed more families”. TCPalm. 12 November 2012. Web. 27 March 2013. < http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2012/nov/12/fellsmeres-2nd-community-garden-will-help-feed/>