A report from Jim Smith, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton:

The Healing Justice group at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton (www.uufbr.org) is supporting the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org) in its Stop the Burn Campaign in Florida.

Friends of the Everglades (www.everglades.org) recently signed on to the campaign. Its aim is to convince state officials to ban the harvest time burning of sugar cane, which produces smoke and carcinogens that have been linked to higher rates of asthma and cancer than normal in some of the poorest communities in the state, Belle Glade and Pahokee. The Healing Justice group supports a switch to green harvesting techniques as long as provisions are made to preserve as many jobs as possible.

UUFBR ran a worship service June 13 featuring Colin Walkes, the former mayor of Pahokee, who testified with others in Tallahassee about the harmful effects of the burning in his community. The Sierra Club has asked advocates to sign onto a letter asking for the state to ban the burning.

Florida is the top producer of sugar cane in the U.S. with more than 400,000 acres; five big companies earning more than $800 million are involved. They employee 14,000 workers. These companies contributed $11 million to the campaigns of Democratic and Republican state legislators in 2020, resulting in a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in spring 2021 which shield growers and companies from being sued by anyone claiming adverse health effects due to exposure to smoke and ash, “black snow,” that wafts over their communities.

Brazil halted almost all of its burning of sugar cane in 2017 and uses green harvesting techniques, which growers say are more costly. Florida advocates say the state Agricultural Department routinely grants burning permits when the wind blows toward the poor, predominantly Black and brown communities that line the east side of Lake Okeechobee but does not allow burning when the wind blows toward the affluent community of Wellington.  Advocates would like the state to at least create a buffer zone to protect the frontline communities from the smoke and ash.