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.
“People should be running the government, not corporations.” — Fred Brockman
The choice between sending a child to school or keeping them home to protect their health is one that many Floridians experienced for the first time as Covid-19 ravaged the country. Yet, in the Glades communities south of Lake Okeechobee, it’s a dilemma parents have faced for decades.
During the 22 years that Anne Haskell taught at Glades Central Community High School, she watched families struggle when sugarcane burning in nearby fields filled the air around the school with smoke. Should they send their children to school? Or keep them home to protect their lungs?
When you live in Belle Glade, as Anne has for more than 40 years, you quickly learn that smoke from pre-harvest sugarcane burning is part of life for many months of the year. Her partner, Fred Brockman, also was a school faculty member in the area for 25 years. They have strong memories of how often absences in Glades community schools could be attributed to health concerns surrounding exposure to smoke. The experience has left them angry and pleading for one simple request to the multi-billion dollar sugarcane corporations in the area: Be a better neighbor.
As members of Sierra Club’s Stop the Burn campaign leadership team, Fred and Anne have become well-versed on the issue and the alternative techniques that farmers could use to eliminate the harmful practice of burning. When you know that green harvesting — a safer harvesting technique embraced by other mass producers of sugarcane around the world — is available, it’s hard to understand why the current burn practices continue.
But money talks. And in the Glades, where Big Sugar’s wealth and influence are pervasive, it can be hard to convince people to stand up and fight back. Not Fred and Anne. And as they note, there’s a change coming. It’s time to make this the Last Burn Season.
Watch Fred and Anne’s story.