Last Saturday, September 29, I had the opportunity to join YAYA-NFWM on a trip to Fellsmere, Florida to spend the day at the Fellsmere Campesinos Gardens. Fellsmere is a city in India River County about 93 miles from Orlando. Hispanics make up about eighty-one percent of the population, and they mostly work in the citrus groves and other crops grown in the area (Source). The Campesinos Gardens is a program initiated by the Farmworkers Association of Florida (FWAF) in 2010, and its purpose is to “blend organic production methods with traditional agricultural knowledge to improve local food systems in farm worker communities” (Source).
The day started with a 7:15 am meeting at the Central Florida office of YAYA where I met members of the organization as well as other University of Central Florida students, like myself, attending for the first time. We car-pooled, which took about an hour and a half, and at the Farmworker Association of Florida’s Fellsmere office we meet with organizer Yolanda Gomez. Mrs. Gomez was kind enough to sit and share with the group what the Campesinos Garden’s plan and aspirations are for the community, some of the many grievances the farm workers face, challenges the project has, and campaigns/projects the FWAF, together with YAYA, are working on. Often, farmworkers don’t have the monetary means to the fresh foods they work hard collecting day in and day out for us to consume and so these community gardens give them the opportunity to have access to nutritious foods. The Campesinos Gardens are on land owned by the local government, and families who join the project learn how to grow nutritious vegetables through an agro-ecology model, which promotes growing foods free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Prior to our trip, the area saw a lot of rain, and consequently the soil was pretty saturated and muddy. However, we still had a chance to see the beautiful gardens and get our hands dirty! Together the group germinated about 1600 seeds including habanero, eggplant, cilantro, and pepper seeds. After a day full of horse manure (used to fertilize the seeds and the mixing was the highlight of my day), germinating all kinds of veggies, and a mean fire ant attack (which did not pose an obstacle or delay whatsoever to our labor), we sat down to a delicious meal prepared by Yolanda’s wonderful sister, Olga, and volunteers from our group. It was at this point each of us got a chance to reflect on the day and our experience.
For me, the trip to Fellsmere Campesinos Gardens was eye-opening because it gave the farm workers’ community a face. Attending this trip turned the topic from something I’d hear in the news from time to time into a reality. Farm workers’ struggles vary from immigration issue, job instability (some jobs are permanent, some seasonal), exposure to harmful chemicals and fertilizers, and lack of legal protections and fair wages for the essential labor they perform in our nation. The Campesinos Garden is much more than just growing food. It encourages farm worker families who reside in this area to learn about sustainable agriculture and become involved in and take ownership of these plots of land. It also aims, together with YAYA and other organizations’ solidary with the farm workers’ cause, at reaching out, educating, and bringing awareness to communities outside of Fellsmere. I can’t wait to return next month to see how far the seeds have grown and get to spend more time with YAYA representatives, their volunteers, and the people of Fellsmere.
Ileana Roque Gonzalez
University of Central Florida