Health

The Guardian of the Glades – STAT

 

Emerson Hilas chases rabbits through a sugarcane field that was recently burned. To process the product and prepare the land, sugar companies openly burn hundreds of thousands of acres of cane fields each year in the Glades.​ The rabbits that live in the fields are chased out by the fire, and many people catch them to sell and eat.

PAHOKEE, Fla. — The semitruck carrying all of the food was late. Tammy Jackson-Moore sat in the driver’s seat of a golf cart, quickly tapping out text messages trying to get to the bottom of the delay. Behind her, a long line of cars snaked around the park where Jackson-Moore and a group of volunteers had set up a monthly food distribution site in the Glades. It is one of the poorest areas in the country and takes its name from the bordering Everglades. 

After a few moments of frustration, Jackson-Moore sped off to check on people who had been waiting in their cars for hours. The food would be there soon, she told them. The truck had lost its way driving in from the coast. 

Jackson-Moore helped start the Guardians of the Glades, a nonprofit focused on community advocacy, and has led efforts to help her community during the pandemic. Every other Friday, since April 2020, she has coordinated free food distribution — and at times Covid-19 testing — in Belle Glade, South Bay, and Pahokee, rural agricultural towns that were already strapped for resources before the pandemic. A large number of residents in the tri-city area work seasonal jobs in agriculture and live below the poverty line. Food insecurity is considerably higher here than in the rest of Palm Beach County.

The Glades is just 43 miles from Palm Beach, home to some of the wealthiest people in the country. This agricultural area skirts Lake Okeechobee and is known for its rich, black soil — “The Muck,” as locals call it. The Glades’ cane fields have long produced a large portion of the sugar made in the country, and much of the economics of the area is controlled by the sugar cane farmers and corporations. U.S. Sugar along with Florida Crystals and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida is known as “Big Sugar” and are some of the more powerful agricultural lobbies in the state. 

While the soil makes many of these sugar corporations wealthy, the area is predominantly made up of brown and Black, low-wage day laborers who are often overlooked. A recent investigation by ProPublica and the Palm Beach Post found that the burning of the cane fields each season pollutes the air and has other negative environmental impacts. The money-saving practice is done to clear the fields, but it has been banned by many other countries. 

Jackson-Moore is all too familiar with the complex disparities of her community. This is why she started her nonprofit. She wanted to bring local people together to make a difference in the lives of people around her. She sits on numerous civic boards, and though she has a long resume and direct lines to commissioners and legislators, many know her simply as Ms. Tammy. 

While directing the food distribution traffic, juggling volunteers, and coordinating food boxes to be dropped off to homebound residents, Jackson-Moore took a moment to pull a young man aside. She gently pressed a white envelope into his hand, a donation for his daughter’s softball team. 

“This is our community and we need to take care of it,” she said as the food distribution came to a close.  

The Glades
Tammy Jackson-Moore has coordinated free food distribution and other efforts to help her community during the pandemic.
The Glades
Volunteers distribute free food those in need in the Glades. The group has lost members to Covid-19.
The Glades
Food insecurity is considerably higher in The Glades than in the rest of Palm Beach County.
The Glades
Smashed blueberries are scattered on the ground after falling off the back of a truck loaded with food for distribution.
The Glades
Quamane Williams (right) goes rabbit hunting in the sugarcane fields in Pahokee on the weekends to bring in extra money for his family. It’s a tradition for young people to hunt the rabbits that are smoked out by the burning of the fields. Williams and his friends Emerson Hilas (left) and Jashawne Brown sell the rabbits through Facebook for $5-$6 each.
The Glades
A pallet of blueberries fell off of a truck full of donations for a food drive.
The Glades
Jackson-Moore helped start the nonprofit Guardians of the Glades. Every other week she runs a free food drive in one of the tri-city areas. She has helped distribute hundred of thousands of pounds of food to people hit hard by the pandemic.
The Glades
Boxes of donated orange juice bottles are unpacked by volunteers.
The Glades
“It’s food. The stores are shut down, so what do you think people are gonna do? Get food. We might not look like we have a lot, but we are rich. The muck is rich,” said Williams, 30, as he cleaned rabbits.
The Glades
Vehicles line up for a free food distribution.


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