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This past week, The Marjorie the thought-provoking website that describes itself as “a woman-owned reporting nonprofit that promotes a greater understanding of issues related to women and the environment in Florida” — published the latest contributions to its ongoing series of guest essays titled “Dispatches from a Sinking State”.  And among the latest contributors to the must-read series was none other than the CIW’s own Lupe Gonzalo! 

The initiative – its objective underscored by the cheeky tagline of “reclaiming #FloridaWoman” – aims to highlight the wide-ranging experiences and insights of Florida women vis a vis the natural world and the swiftly-changing climate.  In The Marjorie’s own words:

Some of the biggest misconceptions about climate change are that it will impact somewhere far away from us, affect someone else, or happen at some point in the future. Yet we know this isn’t true: climate change is manifesting here, now, in our own communities.

In our newest contributions to our Dispatches from a Sinking State series, six Florida women pull back the curtain on environmental changes in their corners of the state. These stories are all guided by care for our wild spaces, concern for the survival of our communities, and a vision of our ecological futures — all of which hang in a delicate balance.

Today, we’re sharing Lupe’s vivid, compelling reflection with you in its entirety.  Her writing brings to life the everyday experiences of the women and men who harvest our fruits and vegetables in Florida’s fields; the dangers unique to farmworkers’ experience doing heavy, demanding labor on a warming planet; and the critical importance of building collective resilience – through community-driven efforts like the Fair Food Program – into the country’s most marginalized communities. 

When you’re done reading Lupe’s essay here below, we’d strongly encourage you to check out the rest of The Marjorie’s full series of powerful essays, which you can find at their website!

Fear and Hope in the Fields

Dispatches from a Sinking State

Editor’s Note: Dispatches from a Sinking State is a contributor series from The Marjorie featuring first-person accounts of the environmental changes Florida women are witnessing across the state. This essay was funded by the Society of Environmental Journalists. Find the Spanish-language version of this story here.

By Lupe Gonzalo

Published April 30, 2021

From the earliest days when I set foot in the muddy fields of Florida, I have understood the risks that come with harvesting the nation’s food.

As farmworkers, you always have to rise before the sun, waking up while the sky is still black. But when the sun does find us in the fields, falling on the tomato plant leaves and onto our shoulders and backs, you feel a deep burning on your skin, especially when the humidity hangs heavy in the air. You can’t breathe, especially with the bandanas we use to cover our faces from the sun’s rays.

I remember one morning in particular, nearly 20 years ago. I was working as a tomato harvester for one of the largest growers in the United States.

I had recently arrived in Florida from Guatemala. There was one man, about my dad’s age, who was always laughing on the bus, making jokes. He got along with everyone. We called him “the Motorcito,” or little motor, because he would beat out even the younger men in harvesting buckets of tomatoes, in spite of his age and working so many years in the fields.

That morning while we worked, I heard Motorcito talking to the crew leader: “I feel really tired, I need to drink some water.” In those days, there was no potable water in the fields – every once and awhile the crew leader would bring some water jugs, but you just had to endure until he arrived.

Hours passed and, as we took our lunch break, we noticed the bus was quieter than usual. We asked about the man who was always laughing. He had passed out under the bus and neither shouting nor shaking him would wake him. We had to bring ice to revive him. A few days later, Motorcito came back to work and told us that the doctor had called what happened “insolation,” like the sun had passed into his body...

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