South of the Lake
It was so exciting to gather with 1/3 of Class XI in Belle Glade this past Thursday. There have been many difficult situations that we have all encountered throughout this pandemic, however missing out on seeing our classmates is close to the top of that list.
We were slated to meet at the Belle Glade Marina. As you drive down West Canal Street, North you may wonder if you are in right spot as you wait at the stop light to cross the one-way bridge to the marina, but alas, we arrived. Keith Wedgworth (from Wedgworth Farms and alumni of WLI Class VII) was there to greet us for our first adventure of the day, a gorgeous airboat ride around the Southern part of Lake Okeechobee. Just a few weeks ago the lake was much lower, but today it was around 14 feet. The southern portion of the lake has areas where lily pads and hydrilla grow and the most beautiful birds you have ever seen! Our airboat captain took us to an amazing tree house in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. There is a lot of history here, the land where the tree house stands used to be a farming community decades ago.
Once we got back to the Marina, we had the most amazing chicken lunch provided by Wedgworth Farms and delicious cupcakes provided by Florida Crystals and of course only served with drinks made from REAL sugar!
Dr. Samira Daroub (professor UF/IFAS Soil & Water Sciences) shared with us about the EAA, Everglades Agricultural Area, and the Best Management Practices (BMP’s) that have been mandated for all farmers in the area to comply with since 1995. The primary goal of these BMP’s is for each farm to reduce the level of phosphors in the soil by 25% with soil testing for nutrients, water management and sediment control in turn ensuring the protection of our most sensitive resource, the Everglades. Most farms exceed these standards and take extreme pride is being the best stewards of the land.
There is huge misconception in relation to Lake Okeechobee and agriculture, and sugar is most heavily credited with this misconception. Agriculture has been long to blame for the algae blooms and fish kills that devastate our costal waterways. To set the record straight, the water in Lake Okeechobee flows South, the sugar farming takes place SOUTH of the lake and farms do not regularly back pump water into the lake. Obviously, there are other contributors who are not agriculture.
Keith Wedgworth and Caroline Villanueva from Florida Crystals and WLI Class X, shared about the coalition of farmers that have banded together to fight the bad press related to the falsities of Sugar and Water. It is disheartening to hear how much hate is thrown towards an entire industry that I assure you people do not want to live without. They were joined by Jeffery Willis (Muck City Angler) who is a lifetime fisherman of the area and an educator for the community. Jeffery’s opinion is that education is the key to canceling the misconceptions of agriculture and the lake, and that farmers need to continue sharing their story.