By Julia du Plooy
President of the Lake Okeechobee Business Alliance.
CLEWISTON — Growing up in Clewiston, I heard how special-interest “activists” often used our farmers as their boogeymen. Now as a mother of two and founder of an organization devoted to promoting local causes, I fear extremism in Florida is threatening to disrupt not only our farming communities’ way of life but also our nation’s food supply.
Over the years, the anti-farming efforts of Everglades Foundation-funded groups have become undeniable. While their main target has been what they refer to as “Big Sugar” — in reality, their attempts to mislead people on the truth about farming puts thousands of the “little people” at risk. These are the multi-generational family farmers who not only grow sugarcane but also citrus, sweet corn and other fresh vegetables in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area, which are consumed annually by 180 million Americans.
The public deserves to know the truth about how these groups are financed and their record of coordinating one of the most calculated anti-farmer campaigns our state and country have ever seen. Here are just a few of the major anti-farming efforts undertaken by groups such as Bullsugar, Captains for Clean Water, Sierra Club and Audubon, all of which receive a majority of their funding from the Everglades Foundation.
In 2017, the Everglades Foundation and groups they support unsuccessfully tried to take another 60,000 acres of South Florida farmland out of production — even though farmers already have given up 120,000 acres for conservation. This request would have resulted in the closure of a sugar mill, a reduction of thousands of jobs and less rice, corn and other vegetables grown by American farmers — increasing our nation’s dependence on foreign food suppliers.
More recently, they have attempted to use the global coronavirus pandemic to scare Florida residents into believing farming is bad for Americans, at a time when Americans need farming more than ever to provide safe, fresh and locally-available food.
Over the years, these groups have spent millions of dollars to falsely attack farmers in the media over water quality, despite the fact that Glades farmers’ water quality has significantly improved over the past 20 years and is cleaner than water in most other areas.
In these efforts, they have shamefully tried to convince coastal residents that farmers south of Lake Okeechobee are to blame for local water quality issues; however, it is a fact that more than 95 percent of water in Lake Okeechobee comes from Orlando and not south of the lake where their farms are located.
The money they use is raised at glitzy fundraising galas at The Breakers, where billionaires who have made money on the backs of foreign corporate polluters are feted.
Never letting a crisis go to waste, they have used legitimate coastal water quality crises such as the 2016 blue-green algae blooms and 2018’s red tide event to falsely attack farmers and raise money for their anti-farming causes. Their stream of fundraising emails is almost as consistent as the water flowing into Lake Okeechobee from Orlando, which they never acknowledge.
They decry “special interests,” yet rely on highly paid lobbyists in Tallahassee and Washington to actively turn lawmakers against farmers and oppose programs and initiatives that promote American farming over foreign farming interests.
Alarmingly, groups such as Bullsugar and the Everglades Trust have fomented hostile threats online against farming communities, including threats of violence against farmers, calls to “blow up the Herbert Hoover Dike,” blow up local sugar mills, and even threats of gun violence against residents in the Glades. These threats have been investigated by local law enforcement.
In one instance, they partnered with sunglass maker Costa and shamefully posted an animated video online showing the Herbert Hoover Dike explode and the Glades communities being flooded.
Now, they are actively working with Congressman Brian Mast to support efforts to drain Lake Okeechobee and cut off the water supply for farmers and others in the Glades along with South Florida and the Everglades.
If you ask anyone in the Glades, they know these organizations by name not for their environmentalism, but for their anti-farming agenda. Farming communities are not looking for sympathy but, at a minimum, a recognition of what these groups really are: untruthful and anti-American.