Tag Archives: South Florida in Peril

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. (http://www.stateofflorida.com/Portal/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=95)

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?

Money…

Power…

Greed…

History…

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. (http://www.floridaclassicslibrary.com) 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.)

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Governor Broward ca. 1911: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon_B._Broward)

Florida Dept of Agriculture: (http://www.freshfromflorida.com)

Fresh From Florida/Agriculture is the cornerstone of Florida’s 500 Year History: (http://www.freshfromflorida.com/News-Events/Hot-Topics/Agriculture-is-the-Cornerstone-of-Florida-s-500-Year-History)

IFAS Everglades Sugar Research Center, Bell Glade: (http://erec.ifas.ufl.edu/about/mission_statement.shtml)

IFAS/UF: (http://ifas.ufl.edu/about-IFAS.shtml)

Department of the Interiors (DOIs) report on EAA and historical destruction of Everglades: (http://www.doi.gov/pmb/oepc/wetlands2/v2ch7.cfm)

Florida’s  Agricultural  Museum: (http://www.myagmuseum.com/floridaagriculture.html)

“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.” (http://www.city-data.com/states/Florida-Agriculture.html)

Florida Classics Library, Everglades’ Historical Destruction, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

One of Val Marin's favorite books, "Everglades of Florida," first printed in  1911, and reprinted as "South Florida in Peril," 1988. Florida Classics Library.
One of Val Marin’s favorite books, “Everglades of Florida,” first printed in 1911, and reprinted as “South Florida in Peril,” 1988, by Florida Classics Library.
Florida Classics Library
Florida Classics Library

When I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, there was a bookstore called VAL’s BOOKS. It was located on East Ocean Boulevard across from the Martin County Courthouse. My parents were very fond of Val and we would often visit, browse, and buy. Visiting the bookstore was an escape from the wonderful but limited world of early Stuart.

Years passed, and the businesses along East Ocean changed, and the beloved owner of Val’s Books, Mr Val Martin, moved his bookstore to Hobe Sound. Today you will see it if you drive south on Dixie Highway from Stuart to Bridge Road. It is located at a fork in the road and is a large, attractive spanish style building. The sign reads FLORIDA CLASSICS LIBRARY.  (http://www.floridaclassicslibrary.com)

This bookstore is the absolute coolest for the “river enthusiast,” River Warrior, the person who appreciates Florida history or just wants a break from the norm.

There are copies of very old maps, old books, out of print books that have been reprinted by Mr Martin, and a great selection of children’s books as well. All have to do with Florida.

1856 War Map of Florida Everglades, Florida Classic Library.
1856 War Map of Florida Everglades, Florida Classic Library.

It was at this bookstore that I first found maps and books that would give me great insight and historical reference for the destruction of South Florida and our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Val has fought for the Indian River Lagoon himself since the early days and you will see his name now and again in a Letter to the Editor. At the bookstore, he is a great “guide.”

The first book he called to my attention was the one in today’s featured photo, A Study in Bureaucratic Self-Deception, South Florida in Peril-How the United States Congress and the State of Florida in cooperation with land speculators turned the River of Grass into a billion dollars sand bar.

It’s cover photos features a poor alligator in the Everglades struggling to find water in a culvert in the same “land” its ancestors thrived.

The book itself is a collection of documented congressional and state meeting minutes/summaries. Reading it is sometimes a collection of  nauseating run on sentences but very educational and mind-blowing.

For instance on page 21, in an excerpt from 1881, entitled: Note 2, Agreement Between *Hamilton Disston and Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund for the Reclamation of overflowed Lands, the book reads in discussion of Lake Okeechobee, the St Lucie River, and the Caloosahatchee:

Drainage map of Florida 1911. Florida Classics Library.
State/Federal drainage map of Florida 1911. Florida Classics Library.

“…by cuts or canals, including both those already patented as well as those that may hereafter be patented to said State by the United States, the said lands are to be reclaimed and drained and rendered fit for cultivation by permanently lowing and keeping reduced the waters of Lake Okeechobee, and thereby permanently lowering and keeping reduced the high water level of said river, and by thus lowering the waters…it being understood and agreed that the drainage, reduction of lowering of the waters of Lake  Okeechobee may be made by a series of canals or cuts from the waters of said lake to the Caloosahatchee River on the west and by cuts and canals from said lake eastwardly to the waters of the St Lucie or other available point…”

For me, it is hard to believe this conversation took place in 1881!

The book goes on to document the state’s efforts to introduce sugar cultivation into south en Florida around the fertile muck lands of Lake Okeechobee and is a documentary record of “those efforts at both the State and National level to ditch, dike and reclaim the Everglades for agricultural production which ultimately resulted in the legacy of destruction of ecosystems across the south region of Florida and its adjacent seacoast.”

Oh well…

The only way to change history is to know history. A visit to Val Martin’s Florida Classics Library is a great place to start!

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The address of Florid Classics Library is: 11300 Se Dixie Hwy, Hobe Sound, FL 33455.  Here is the website from which you can also “browse:”(http://www.floridaclassicslibrary.com)

*Hamilton Disston was the first successful “drainer” of our state, it is widely believed that despite his “success” and great riches, he ended up committing suicide in a bathtub because of the repercussions of the “Financial Panic of 1893;” some reports say it was heart trouble. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_Disston)