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.
“It impacts my quality of life, not only health-wise but my social life… I’m gradually making plans to relocate.” — Ras Benjahman
Howard Stephens, known to his friends as Ras Benjahman, lives in an oasis at his home in Lake Harbor on the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee. His yard bursts with greenery — trees and plants lovingly cultivated into his own private jungle. The upkeep takes time, but the gardening and the daily maintenance of his small farm are welcome toils. He is emphatically fulfilled by the life he’s created for himself.
If only it could last.
Unfortunately, pre-harvest burning of sugarcane fields poses a perpetual threat to his paradise. Ash from the burns often covers his plants, occasionally killing portions of his garden. Smog lifting off the surrounding sugarcane fields obscures the view, and the smell of acrid smoke during burn season makes it impossible to hang laundry from a line strung through his yard. On days when the windows are open to catch a passing breeze, the toxic air often penetrates the screens, drifting through his home and making him feel lethargic and drowsy. “It impacts my breathing for sure,” the 75-year-old who suffers from COPD tells us.
The smoke is driving him out. Despite his love for his home, Ras Benjahman acknowledges the downturn in his quality of life as the frequent burns impact not only his health, but his social life. He says it isn’t uncommon for friends and family to question the air quality when he asks them to visit. When the cane burns, they won’t come. And they’ve become increasingly sure that he shouldn’t stay there either.
Ras Benjahman knows they are right. To protect his health, and to maintain vital relationships, he is slowly making plans to relocate.
How many Glades residents like Ras Benjahman will be forced to leave? How many more will simply have to stay put and endure the consequences? These can’t be the only options. It’s time to make this The Last Burn Season.
Watch Ras Benjahman’s Story.