Friday, April 3, 2020

Big Sugar

I am fond of saying Florida is a state of subtleties and people think I'm nuts. This state is home to Florida Man the mythical bumbling fool who makes pratfalls look cool. We all know Florida has outstanding beaches, massive condo towers that dominate them, pollution to beat the band and Spring Break better than anyone. And now with travel shut down all I have is photos to look at...
The parts I have learned to like about Florida are the bits that look like mangroves in the keys and cowboy country around Immokalee and Arcadia home of livestock shows and rodeos. I like the surprises that Central Florida can inflict on people who think that watching TV is a substitute for exploring for yourself.
The tall wavy grass is sugarcane, miles and miles of  n agricultural mono-culture as controversial as it is sweet. Sugar is grown in Florida thanks to government subsidy, one of those welfare programs that don't get much notice when life sustaining welfare is cut by government edict. Thanks to the Sugar Act of 1934  tax dollars support this industry to the tune of around 3 billion dollars a  year. 
The industry imports workers form the Caribbean to do back breaking labor harvesting the stuff in conditions you can hardly imagine in the south Florida heat. Sugar is grown in soft soil and machinery can't do the work of men dressed in armor (no kidding) hacking at the cane with machetes all day every day. The harvest is back breaking and it gets done because there is no work in Jamaica and elsewhere to the south of us.
I took this picture below to illustrate the point. Sugar need annual fertilization as  the cane sucks the nutrients out of the soil. Water requirements are massive and the runoff into Florida Bay is (allegedly they tell us) responsible for coral reef die off. 
Driving through the Everglades I like to stop and feel the breeze blowing in this place so unlike the place where I live. Rusty thought it was pretty cool too.
 As you look at these pictures that are not of the Keys you may see the beauty that I see or may not.
It's not mountains and valleys or long scenic vistas but it is a place that needs to be allowed to revert to its original function as  a marsh to clean the fresh water flowing through the state.

Then to clean the fields of sugar they burn the old stalks destroying everything burning wildlife and filling the sky with smoke and ash. It happens every year and looks like this:

 And this is about as exciting as a motorcycle ride gets around here:
And if you want long straight roads you don't have to go to Alaska around here they are flat as well, to the horizon.
Small brown dogs can find the grasses interesting but I have known Rusty to not like what he finds in these mysterious marshy places and turn tail and run to me without explanation.
As pretty and as vast as these marshes are it is not an urban myth that large tropical snakes have been released here by inconsiderate pet owners and they have populated these spaces in the manner of a horror story.
They look beautiful to my eye these open plains, but the horror lurks out of sight...!


Cees Klumper said...

I remember driving for the first time through central Florida, must have been around 1985, from the East Coast (Boca Raton at the time) and how the vegetation was getting thicker and lusher the more we went West, only to abruptly stop and be replaced by vast stretches of open farmland, like your pictures show. I was quite surprised as I imagined the central land to be more like Africa; jungle-like. I also never came to understand or appreciate the Everglades as something really worth visiting. I lived in Southern Florida for 10 years and only once set foot there. I guess similar to how I went to Miami (from Boca/West Palm Beach/Jupiter) only two or three times in all those years, and I still don't quite see what makes others rave about Miami.
Anyways, sugar is a highly subsidized crop in my native Holland as well. So it seems most large producers subsidize it with, in the end, us as taxpayers and consumers paying for the subsidies while reaping the benefits in paying lower prices. Seems like a silly and expensive way of recycling money and the industry could probably do without, so long as everyone would agree to stop subsidizing. But it's probably a bit like an arms race: they subsidize, so I have to also.

JFix said...

I'm curious if you've seen H-2 Worker, the 1990 documentary about Big Sugar and the Jamaicans who toiled the fields by Stephanie Black, the brilliant filmmaker responsible also for Life & Debt? Both very powerful films.

Anonymous said...

I always loved the “real” Florida. The back roads and towns that tourists never see. Loved pulling over on the side of the road and letting the smell of orange blossoms permeate the car. Great areas to explore off the beaten path. Don’t think most people think of Florida as the Deep South, but there are areas that say differently. Interesting state. Beautiful too.