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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Long before I worked for U.S. Sugar, I was a local wife, mother and high school teacher with strong roots in the Glades farming communities. Along with many friends and colleagues, my husband and I chose to live in this close-knit farming community where life moves at a slower, sweeter pace. We would never have chosen to raise our family here if it wasn’t a safe, healthy environment with clean air and water. Neither would the rest of our community. The notion that people of the Glades cannot speak, think or act for themselves is false.
The fertile farmlands of the Glades produce the fresh fruits, vegetables, sugar and rice that feed American families. While it’s widely said that Belle Glade’s soil is her fortune, the people are truly our most valuable resource; our communities are made of up of good people from all walks of life in Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, Clewiston, Moore Haven and LaBelle. Many work in farming and manufacturing, and they have continued to be front line workers during the pandemic — keeping food on tables across America and donating thousands of crates of locally grown sweet corn, green beans and other fresh vegetables.
South Florida activists, on the other hand, have callously used COVID-19 as their latest excuse to attack Glades farmers.
Everglades groups who spent decades trying to drive farming jobs out of the Glades have suddenly arrived in town “concerned” about Glades residents, making false claims about air pollution and attacking farmers. The fact is that farmers already utilize the latest technology and advanced farming practices, and we have good air quality.
As a proud, lifelong resident of Belle Glade, I’m wary of outsiders showing sudden concern, particularly when they start throwing out phrases like environmental justice and trying to use our town and our people to further their own agenda and potentially benefiting financially from meritless lawsuits.
How can the public know our community has good air quality? The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has monitored air quality in Belle Glade (as they do elsewhere in Palm Beach County) for decades. The data show that the air in the farming area meets all state and federal EPA clean air standards and ranks among the best air quality in the state — and is actually better than surrounding urban areas.
Contrary to activists’ claims, Florida farmers’ safe, controlled pre-harvest sugarcane burns are carefully regulated and legally permitted by the Florida Department of Agriculture. It is a common, acceptable agricultural practice in the United States and throughout the world (including Brazil and Australia). Field burns are contained, small areas and generally only last 15-20 minutes.
Individual daily field permit conditions use the most sophisticated weather modeling available to protect our communities. Make no mistake: all of our communities are protected by these regulations.
Sugarcane and vegetable farming are the cornerstones of the Glades economy and community. Nearly every local family has ties to agriculture. We invite people to visit our community when they can and to learn more about our farming practices. Farming is a proud tradition here — one that I am proud to be part of in this community.
We are committed to our community, and we care. We live here and we raise our families here.