This is one of the photos in Sofia Valiente’s “Foreverglades” exhibit, running Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 29, 2020, in downtown West Palm Beach. These men are among the former farmworkers from Jamaica who have taken root in Lake Harbor, the westernmost community in Palm Beach County. According to Valiente’s photo information, “Jamaicans were originally selected to work under contract in America and cut sugar cane by hand (see photo below). Heavy machinery has replaced that work, but some Jamaicans have stayed and built their lives in the Glades.” In 2010, Lake Harbor had a population of 45, according to www.city-data.com. / J.D. Vivian
A photography exhibit detailing pioneer life in the Glades opened Nov. 30 in downtown West Palm Beach. “Foreverglades” is the brainchild of writer/photographer Sofia Valiente, a Belle Glade resident who has written Rooted in the Muck, a book consisting of profiles and photos of Glades residents who played a significant role in that region; and Miracle Village, a book about a South Florida community of sex offenders, for which she won a World Press Photo Award.
The photo exhibit, which runs Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 29, 2020, is housed in a replica of a 1920s steamboat — named Foreverglades — that was recently trucked up from Opa-Locka in Miami-Dade County. The pond where the boat is docked, on the north side of Howard Park, 1302 Parker Ave., once served as the Stub Canal Turning Basin (see photo below). In the early 1900s, boats and barges laden with produce from what is now the Everglades Agricultural Area traveled to downtown West Palm Beach on a series of narrow canals — most of which still exist.
Turning basin was once essential to feeding eastern Palm Beach County
From 1918 until about 1928, the boats dropped off their fruits and vegetables at docks in the turning basin. Then they turned around to head back to the Glades; the Stub Canal Turning Basin was the only place wide enough to do that. The opening of roads — basic though they were — to the Glades from West Palm Beach, and the horrific hurricane of 1928 — which destroyed the docks in the turning basin — put a halt to the boat traffic.
The “Foreverglades” photos depict the significant role that the Belle Glade region has played in the development of South Florida. But the Everglades Agricultural Area doesn’t benefit or feed only Floridians; during the winter growing season, in fact, the EAA provides about half of the produce that Americans — throughout the country — consume.
Valiente, who moved to Belle Glade in 2015, lives in an apartment near the city’s so-called “Ramp,” where farmworkers gather well before sunrise to find work. There, they bargain with field bosses over wages and what kind of crops they’ll harvest. Then they board buses that carry them to the fields.
Says Valiente about her exhibition: “Not until pioneers dredged canals and redirected the flow of Lake Okeechobee did this area become habitable. In this time capsule, history is present. Roots run deep, and the pioneer spirit can still be felt.”
Admission is free, but registration is required. “Foreverglades” is funded, in part, by the Knight Foundation, the Florida Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs, and the West Palm Beach Arts & Entertainment District.
For more information on “Foreverglades,” visit www.facebook.com/RootedintheMuck.
To order tickets, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/2272792043011588/?event_time_id=2272792049678254.