Friday, December 16, 2016

Community Workshop Helps Clear the Smoke on Sugarcane Burning

 Stop Sugar Field Burning team presenters, left,
host Steve Messam, right.

More than 30 residents of Lake Okeechobee’s Glades Communities gathered for the "Stop The Burn!Go Green Harvest! Community Workshop," on December 3, in Belle Glade. Leaders of the Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign team, based in South Bay and Belle Glade, gave a series of inspiring presentations about their campaign to end the harmful, outdated practice of pre-harvest sugarcane burning and switch to the burn-free, modern alternative of "green harvesting."
First, workshop host and local team member Steve Messam pointed out that the Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign is not about bashing the sugar industry, but rather influencing it to become a better neighbor to the Glades communities. He emphasized that a good neighbor does not dump its trash in the form of smoke and ash on their neighbors’ property and expect them to deal with the cleanup and health consequences.

Campaign team leader Shanique Scott next presented the negative health effects associated with exposure to sugar cane burning emissions. Studies from other parts of the world have concluded that sugar cane burning contributes to respiratory disease and even cancer. When Ms. Scott asked how many residents and their families personally suffered from respiratory issues such as asthma, the majority of the attendees raised their hands. Ms. Scott also spoke from personal experience about how doctors often recommend to Glades community residents that they move away because the smoke during sugarcane burning season aggravates their respiratory conditions.

Kina Phillips presenting at the Workshop

 Kina Phillips, another local campaign team leader gave a presentation on the environmental injustice of sugar burning. She described the discriminatory nature the of industry's voluntary burn protocols: The protocols prevent sugarcane burning on days when winds blow toward the more affluent residents of eastern Palm Beach County, but provide no such protections when the winds blow toward the poorer, predominantly African American Glades communities in Western Palm Beach County. She highlighted how Glades residents suffer the most from the effects of sugarcane burning while receiving the least amount of protection.

Patrick Ferguson, Sierra Club's Organizing Representative for the Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign described green harvesting is, how it’s done, and it’s many benefits. His presentation highlighted how in green harvesting sugarcane leaves and tops which are called "trash" by the sugar industry are utilized for profit. In Florida the sugar industry burns the trash to make harvesting quicker and cheaper, but leading global sugar producers Australia and Brazil green harvest nearly all their trash to produce mulch, electricity, ethanol, biochar, bio-plastics, tree-free paper products, and more. In addition to providing more raw materials for commercial uses, his presentation covered how green harvesting is for better public health, the environment, and the long term interests of the sugar industry as well.

Campaign team member Brittany Ingram presented on how residents can join the campaign and help affect positive change in their communities. Ms. Ingram described how signing the local petition and joining petition-canvassing teams is a great place to start. She also informed residents on how to make a formal complaint against sugarcane burning and encouraged them to do so the next time they are affected by smoke or ash so their voices can be heard.

Shanique Scott addressing the audience at the end of the Workshop
The workshop ended with a Q & A session where attendees got to share how sugarcane burning has affected them. When attendees were asked if they would be interested in attending the next meeting the entire room raised their hands filling the air with enthusiasm and hope.The workshop let both the local residents and sugar industry know that the Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign is a serious grassroots movement that is on the rise in the Glades.This workshop was the first of many future campaign endeavors in the Glades, which will work to clear the smoke cast by sugarcane burning so a brighter future for Glades will emerge!