Sugarcane burning leaves communities vulnerable to air pollution, health risks and economic stress. It’s time to forge a meaningful path to a long-overdue solution. Make this the Last Burn Season.
“I don’t blame the people for not having hope, but I’ve got hope for them. I’m standing in the gap for my people.”— Kina Phillips
Kina Phillips knows what it is to sacrifice.
At her home in South Bay, Florida, all she has to do is look past the fence line in her backyard for a reminder of the largest agricultural influence south of Lake Okeechobee, and the risks it poses to residents of the Glades communities. Sugarcane stretches for miles into the horizon. When the cane is burned for harvest, it’s difficult to escape the noxious fumes that permeate homes, schools, playgrounds and businesses.
Kina’s view speaks to the power imbalance in the tri-city area south of Lake O. Giant sugarcane corporations have not been good neighbors. Even as the industry makes millions on their backs, some residents find themselves suffering at the hands of their employers. Many of Kina’s peers are afraid to stand up for themselves or to speak against the injustices that their families face in the form of sugarcane burning.
So she’s committed herself to standing up in their place. This is an area that she cares deeply about. Six generations of Kina’s family have planted lasting roots in the community, and she hopes her grandson will continue to call it home once he’s grown. She’s hopeful that this legacy of injustice won’t be his to carry.
As an activist and a mentor, Kina recognizes the power of educating others and creating an example by taking a stand now. She is equally aware that there is danger in silence.
“When you’re silent to something that you know is killing you, your child, your grandparents, you know — people suffering from it… and you’re not part of the solution — you find yourself being part of the problem. You gotta understand that people united together is powerful.”
Speaking out isn’t an act of futile opposition. There is a perfectly reasonable solution to end the burns that leave residents sick and struggling to breathe. Kina has dedicated herself to advocating for the sugarcane industry’s switch to green harvesting — an alternative to burning that many other sugar-producing countries have successfully embraced.
Big Sugar can and should convert to green harvesting. Kina knows it can be done — and she knows that it’s well past time for her hometown to be recognized for its deep love of community, proud history, and years of sacrifice. “It doesn’t matter that we’ve been overlooked for generations,” she tells us. “It doesn’t matter that we’ve been forgotten about… We’re still worthy… We deserve to breathe.”
Watch Kina’s story.