Agriculture, the Governor, the Florida State Legislature, “Blood is Thicker than Water,” St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Historic photo, Ca. 1800s, courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Thurlow Archives.)
Historic photo, ca. 1850s, Martin County,  courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Thurlow Archives.)

I come from a historic agricultural background, on both sides of my family, so I feel like I can criticize it.

My Thurlow great-great grandparents grew thistles in New York, and my Henderson great-grandparents, from a long farming line, settled in Madison, Florida. My grandfather, Russell Henderson, was a well-respected soli-scientist and taught in the Agriculture Department at the University of Florida, even getting a mural painted including him by citrus legend, Ben Hill Griffen…

I ate boiled peanuts while learning about different crops and cows during my summer vacations as a kid while visiting Gainesville.  I understand the connection and importance of agriculture to the success of both my family and to our country.

Gov Broward for which Broward County is named, led in draining the Everglades. (Public photo.)
Florida’s Gov Broward for which Broward County is named, led in leadership to “drain the Everglades,” for agriculture and development. (Public photo.)

Nonetheless, as a product of the Florida Indian River Lagoon region since 1965, I have chosen to focus my energies on “natural preservation.” This is often at odds with agriculture and development’s values.

Again, I respect agriculture; it feeds us….

I just think some aspects of the industry have gone “too far,” and are too coddled by our state, especially regarding the pollution and water resources destruction caused by their now “agribusiness giant-ness.”

Although Agriculture is a “giant,” today the number one income for the state of Florida is tourism. (

Nonetheless, agriculture has a stronghold on our state government beyond comprehension, beyond tourism, or “quality of life or quality for tourists.” Agriculture/sugar brags that agriculture “feeds the world,” not just the state. I guess this is good, but why should my state and local area be “raped and polluted” to feed the world?





No where is this more evident than the in Everglades Agricultural Area where the sugar industry “reigns king.” As of late, the sugar industry is not supporting the purchase of option lands that are FOR SALE. They have been able to convince the governor, and so far the state legislature, that is it unwise to purchase these option lands to start creating an EAA reservoir to store, clean and convey more water south to the Everglades to begin the journey of saving the Everglades as well as the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and also the Caloosahatchee River. These estuaries and the people and businesses that live along them sufferer from the 1920 redirection of Lake Okeechobee’s waters east and west for the creation of the Everglades Agricultural Area or EAA.

Option Lands Map SFWMD River of Grass, Option 1 is 46,800 acres and shown in brown. (SFWMD map, 2010)
Option Lands Map SFWMD River of Grass, Option 1 is 46,800 acres and shown in brown. (SFWMD map, 2010.)

Honestly, I am not sure why sugar is so against this land purchase. Their land is for sale! Is because they are making money now and not going broke as they were in 2008 when the option lands deal was legally arranged? Or they do just want to hold out for more money on those lands in the future? In any case, they are doing everything they can NOT to allow the option land purchase to occur as part of the 2015 legislatures’ ability to use Amendment 1 monies while the “environmentalist” community begs….and lake O is getting higher every day.

We all know that the sugar industry gives millions of dollars a years to government officials to secure their interests. This is important, but it is not most important.

What is important for all of us to realize is that the influence of the sugar industry and agriculture in general is much deeper than money. It is blood. And this why our fight for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon requires new blood. A revolution of sorts. Don’t get scared by these words. Nothing is more “American.”

Let’s study the history of sugar and the state of Florida’s pact:

In a 1911 Washington DC publication, of the 62nd Congress, document no. 89, entitled:

“Everglades of Florida.” —-Acts,  Reports, and other Papers, State and National, Relating to the Everglades of the State of Florida and Their Reclamation,”

—we see that even in is  the first documents of the publication produced in  1845, the year of Florida’s statehood, there was a  resolution “recommending the adoption of measures for reclaiming the Everglade land in that state.”  (By 1847 in a letter from Washington DC’s Honorable James D Westcott, Jr. to the Secretary of the Treasury and shared with the Florida legislature….)

It reads in response to the idea of draining the lands south of Lake Okeechobee…

“What would be the value of the now subaqueous lands, reclaimed by such work, I will not pretend to say….all of those (military men) who have resided in this vicinity, and who have repeatedly informed my that many of these lands would be the best sugar and richest lands in the United States.”

This publication reprinted as SOUTH FLORIDA IN PERIL, can be purchased at Florida Classic Library in Hobe Sound. ( It documents the early days of the 130 year tie between the federal, and state government as they all organized together with the agriculture industry to create the state of Florida, a sugar haven, that reached its true peak in the 1960 and 1970, with the exclusion of Cuba’s goods…

Here we are today, almost fifty years later and Cuba is perhaps reopening…and our state water issues in south Florida are out of control.

Agriculture's UF UFAS sites to help with research for agriculture improvement. ( Source, UF/IFAS.)
Today’s agriculture UF IFAS sites to help with research for agriculture improvement. Note sugarcane research center in EAA.(Source, UF/IFAS.)

Anyway, the book goes on for 203 pages documenting the state and federal governments’ support for agriculture in the Everglades and “how rich they would all become…”

That they were successful, I am happy; however; they OVER DID it, over-drained it, and refuse to see their own destruction, and their unfair advantage.

Blood is thicker than water….but “blood can’t be blood” without water…time for a change.

Stats of Sugar in Florida, 1991, Source Hazen and Sawyer, 1993)
Stats of Sugar in Florida, 1991, Source Hazen and Sawyer, 1993.)


Governor Broward ca. 1911: (

Florida Dept of Agriculture: (

Fresh From Florida/Agriculture is the cornerstone of Florida’s 500 Year History: (

IFAS Everglades Sugar Research Center, Bell Glade: (


Department of the Interiors (DOIs) report on EAA and historical destruction of Everglades: (

Florida’s  Agricultural  Museum: (

“Florida’s major field crop is sugarcane (mostly grown near Lake Okeechobee), which enjoyed a sizable production increase in the 1960s and 1970s, following the cutoff of imports from Cuba.” (

26 thoughts on “Agriculture, the Governor, the Florida State Legislature, “Blood is Thicker than Water,” St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

  1. There is just one missing piece. The upcoming shortage of drinking water.
    Part of the 1940 greed syndrome was draining the Everglades for that free land to develop. All these years of flushing water to tide is a few years away from collapse of our drinking water.
    My only disagreement is we need to prepare for the coming shortages as well. Greedy south Florida is feeding into the notion now, that the water must be flushed south. Maybe some, but
    Not just all of it. As we know, pumping water back north is very hard. Drinking water as we know it will stop in the 2030’s.
    Indian River Coubty prepares for this. Tampa and Kissimmee prepares for this. Are we?
    Let us, for once, prepare for years to come, not just what happened last year. We need to plan properly for our future so we are not the drips they write about in 20 years.
    Otherwise, awesome as usual.

  2. Jacqui, thanks for your insight and experiences. I agree we need ag to be able to feed us. And not rely on another country. We do need change and get off the pay to play establishment of big business. Thanks for always sharing and teaching!

  3. Jacqui, this was one of your best posts. The Sugar Kings own our governor and legislature. Campaign money transfers from one hand to the next, promises are made, integrity is down the drain. And so is the plan to remedy the Everglades problem. I think that the only solution is the one proposed by the Miami City Council – we need to cut Florida in half and create a second state, “South Florida.” And I would nominate you to be the first governor of South Florida.

  4. Very courageous post, Jacqui. Thanks. The Treasure Coast has always been a friend of agriculture. However it’s a two way street – they need to call off the dogs and allow state officials to buy the US Sugar land that is FOR SALE.

    We need ALL our local political leaders to step up and and say ‘Buy the Land’, just like you. Especially the ones who have expressed a passion for stopping the discharges. Joe Negron, we’re looking at you!

  5. Why sign a sales contract in 2010 and actively oppose the sale just 5 years later? You point out that U. S. Sugar’s financial situation may be much improved since negotiations started in 2008.

    I view the contract as a hedge against risk on their part.The original impetus may have been a weak economy in 2008, but future risks loomed on the horizon. Some obvious risks to their business: failure of Congress to renew subsidies; normalization of relations with Cuba including an end of the sugar embargo; subsidence in the EAA; sugar cane greening (we can dream can’t we?), etc.

    U. S, Sugar is currently making good money growing sugar so they are in no hurry to sell. If any one of the above or other “business catastrophes” appeared imminent, their interest in a sale would quickly return. Right now they have the best of both worlds- a profitable business and a golden parachute if things go bad. You suggested that they may also be waiting for a better price for their land and I agree. I see the Sugar Hill rezoning effort in Hendry County as an attempt to raise the appraised value of their golden parachute rather than a serious bid for development.

    We arrived at this sad juncture through a convoluted history that you know far better than I do. My very general observation is that the root problem is a lack of enforceable and enforced environmental accountability for the large agricultural land owners. For U. S. Sugar, the land is first and foremost a capital investment. Their stewardship of the land takes a back seat to their stewardship of shareholder value and profits. Mitigation of environmental impacts is a cost on their balance sheets. The “opportunity cost” of lost wetlands in the EAA is borne entirely by citizens and taxpayers.

    At some point (soon hopefully) we need to come to our senses and realize that we can not afford to grant absolute property rights completely detached from environmental responsibilities. When private profits require the imposition of significant public costs, remedial action needs to be taken. The current relationship between Big Sugar and the people of Florida is abusive.

  6. Years back there was a show called Dragnet and when gathering information to find out what happened the detective would allways say—just the facts mam— I believe fresh water runoff (pollution)killing the lagoon is a theory. Fertilizer and pesticides killing the lagoon = speckulation. Farm animal waste killing the lagoon–another theory. Algie bloom blocking sunlight and killing the sea grass=more speckulation. Government spending billions of of dollars without ever once encourageing citizens to vote on how THEIR money is spent—FACT. All the calcium removed to pave roads —changing dynamic chemistry of the whole ecosystem and killing most of the creatures that depend on this environment—FACT. The whole IRL being capable to return to the way it was a hundred years ago—- if this is a fact or a theory depends totally on weather or not people are willing to work togather to make it happen.

  7. How do we get a scientist to study your theory? I will mention it but most of my scientist acquaintances have their own theory thing they are studying already… Don’t you live by FIT? Thanks for your comment Brent.

  8. I look forward to reading your blog at the end of the day, knowing I will learn. You provide a much needed perspective. I am looking forward to Wed. with a lot of help from you. Thank you for all you do.

  9. I don’t think the govenor, the legislators or sfwmd are looking at the benefits for them to buy this land. Before the election they were against amendment 1. When we worked at polls people actually told me it was a land grab blah,blah, blah. I heard some crazy stories. I think our representatives need to take a deep breath and understands it benefits everyone. The speaker of the house Steve Crisafulli said he’s with Ag. Really. If he was he would have done research and understood the reservoir in the EAA is a compromise.
    What I think about is what will this look like it it doesn’t happen. Not just for us with our dead rivers, polluted lagoon but for the Everglades and South Florida. The plumbing must be fixed!

  10. Excellent! That’s basically it in a nutshell and well commented on by all. I agree with Chris – one of your most courageous posts ever Jacqui.

    The “sugar crystal rock” hasn’t moved in 60 plus years – no incentive. Given the current (Doc Stamp revenue) and purchase price opportunity, if the Governor and legislature does not act to buy the necessary land to begin the process of cleaning the water and restoring the Everglades, then I think it’s going to take something more powerful than the bonds of blood and water. Nature will have her way… she always does.

  11. I read in the paper the state is going to spend more millions dredgeing the muck from Turkey Creek and is going to give one million to FIT to study the affects of their dredging. I am certain FIT was involved in designing a multi-million dollar trench box system to catch peoples lawn clipping in IndIanatlantic. I am glad you now know about this . I definatly could use FITs help to share with them all my information and facts that have lead me to my conclusions then they could move forward in the right direction and give taxpayers the most valueable return on their money.

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