Community gardens help Florida farm workers put food on the table

Many workers don't have access to fresh produce

APOPKA, Fla. – Six years ago, the Farmworker Association of Florida helped develop a way to help workers put food on the table. It's through community gardens that many farmworkers are growing the same produce they pick on the fields.  

"It's a little bit paradoxical, but farmworkers don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables," said Antonio Tovar, interim coordinator of Farm Worker Association of Florida.

The organization advocates for farm workers and helps them get access to land so they can harvest their own foods.

"The salary is very low or they work on mono crops -- like, just oranges or just tomatoes -- so they need to buy other produce, and they decided to create community gardens so they can raise their own food," Tovar said.

Currently, there are four gardens located in Homestead, Pierson, Fellsmere and Apopka. There they grow dozens of herbs such as cilantro, sage, rosemary, thyme and basil. 

According to the association, many farm workers can't afford supermarket prices. By having a garden, they get to harvest fruits and vegetables without chemicals and it's within their budget.

"Particularly industrial agriculture is not giving a good treatment to their workers and is also contaminating the lands where they're located, (so) it's not possible to have actual food for the people who work the land," said Paola Sarmiento, co-coordinator of the Agroecology Project.

The garden project was initially funded by the Kellog Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but they no longer receive those grants.

"Right now, we don't have any funding, so we're basically working with volunteers, with community garden members like farm workers," Sarmiento said. "We have been using the actual sustainability idea to start selling in our communities the herbs that we produce."

The gardens are also allowing them to grow their traditional foods such as plantains, papaya, yucca and hibiscus.

Several of these farm workers are of Mexican, Central American and African backgrounds -- communities with few rights, according to Tovar.

"They are not compensated for over time. Sometimes they don't have breaks to go to the bathroom or drink water and actually there are no regulations in terms of how many breaks they can take. They are the people who bring the food to our tables and I think that these people have been ignored for many, many years, so they deserve a better life and better living conditions," Tovar said.

The lands that hold the gardens are loaned to Farm Worker Association of Florida for a small rate from the cities or community centers to support them. The association set up a GoFundMe page for community members to make a donations that will go toward the sustainability and maintenance 
of their gardens. The association is also on Facebook.

About the Author:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.