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Love Lane Lives - the boys & girls from the whitestuff

Love Lane Lives

The history of sugar in Liverpool and the effects of the closure of the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, Love Lane

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The sugar trail from Love Lane to the Sunshine State of Florida

Written by Ron Noon at 17:46 on Saturday, December 13th 2008


(This wonderful antique postcard was given to me by an American Student in Colorado Springs in July 2004. Sugar cane has been grown in Florida for a long time but the real transformation was brought about by a certain Hemispheric revolution in 1959 which did more than change the world of sugar.)

“Every few years, the Congress of the United States of America voted generous price supports for a handful of agricultural millionaires in the great state of Florida. The crop that made them millionaires was sugar, the price of which was grossly inflated and guaranteed by the U.S. Government. This brazen act of plunder accomplished two things: it kept American growers very wealthy, and it undercut the struggling economies of poor Caribbean nations, which could n’t sell their own bounties of cane to the United States at even half the bogus rate.” Carl Hiassen’s Strip Tease

It was a great novel but a terrible film starring and wasting the talents of Demi Moore and Bruce Reynolds. The extracts below are from another book by Hiassen called Skinny Dip. (2004) Before people unfamilar with Hiassen start thinking about a certain pattern with these book titles, this is a former Miami Times investigative journalist with an impecable CV. Perhaps that’s why he has always been a big thorn in the side of BIG SUGAR and the Fanjuls.

“Later, as the pilot angled northward, Joey heard her brother gag in revulsion at the sight of western Broward County, where new subdivisions were emerging like cankers in all directions: thousands upon thousands of cookie-cutter houses, jammed together so tightly that it looked like you could jump from roof to roof for miles on end. Where there were no homes stood office parks, shopping plazas and enormous auto malls – acres and acres of Toyottas and Chryslers, cooking in the sun. Only a slender dirt levee separated the clamorous tide of humanity from the Everglades. ‘At least they left a lake or two for the kids’ Joey remarked.

Mick shook his head sadly. ‘Rock pits’ he informed her. ‘Hundreds of feet deep. That’s where they dredged up the fill for the roads and houses.’
‘But what used to be out here? Before all this?’

He pointed towards the other side of the levee. ‘That’  he said. ‘The widest river in the World’.” page 337

“The murder of the Everglades…is insidiously subtle and undramatic. Unlike more telegenic forms of pollution the fertilizers pouring by the ton from the sugarcane fields and vegetable farms of Southern Florida do not produce stinking tides of dead fish or gruesome panoramas of rotting animal corpses. Instead the phosphates and other agricultural contaminants work invisibly to destroy a mat of algae known as Periphyton, the slimy brown muck that underlies the river of grass and is its most essential nutrient. As the periphyton begins to die, the small fish that feed and rest there move away. Next to go are the egrets and herons, the bluegills and largemouth bass, and so on up the food chain. Soon the sawgrass prairies wither and starve, replaced by waves of cattails and other aquatic plants that thrive on the torrent of phosphorous, yet provide miserable habitat for native birds and wildlife.” page 449

This ecological disaster is decidedly man made and the lack of traction in terms of effective policies for combating this otherwise terminal decline is attributable to the power and shenanigans of Big Sugar, and the fact that saving the Everglades has become somewhat of an apple pie cause, embraced by both political parties in the US. Behind the headline statements of intent and the hype is a conspicuous lag in terms of actual achievement. The vast marshlands continue to be used as a latrine! 

“Those wetlands that could not be dried, paved or planted were eventually trenched out and diked into vast reservoirs by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Billions of gallons of fresh water that for eons had flowed freely as a broad marshy river towards Florida Bay was now held captive for siphoning by agriculture, industry ad burgeoning municipalities. First one cross state highway and then another transected the southern thumb of the peninsula, fatally interrupting the remaining southbound trickle from Lake Okeechobee. What precious water made it to the heart of the marsh often arrived tainted by pesticides, fertilizers and mercury.

To protect farms and sub-divisions from frequent flooding – the unsurprising consequence of having occupied a bog – hundreds of miles of canals were dug to carry the overflow out to sea during the rainy summer months. Engineers employed by a string of water pumping stations to manipulate the water levels according to whim and weather,  heedless of the historic natural cycles. Inevitably the Everglades and all its resplendent wildlife began to die but nobody with the power to prevent it considered trying.
It was after all just a huge damn swamp.

Towards the latter part of the twentieth century a series of severe draughts shattered the cocksure assumption that there would always be plenty of water to steal. Those whose fortunes depended on luxury homebuyers and tourists to South Florida now contemplated the dreadful possibility that the infernal granola headed environmentalists had been correct all along. If the Everglades dried up or succumbed to pollution so might the vast underground aquifer that supplied drinking water from Palm Beach to the Keys. Growth would come to a gagging halt and the dirty fortunes that accompanied it would evaporate faster than jizz on a griddle.” pages 127,128

The phosphorous run offs from sugar-cane cultivation in the Everglades Agricultural Area are an environmentalists nightmare and this is the state and the country which produced Margery Stoneman Douglas. Her 1947 book, RIVER OF GRASS was seminal for anyone interested in envionmental and ecological issues. It was published in the same year as the Cuban writer Ortiz described sugar as capitalism’s…! Margery’s book is an absolute classic so check her out and albeit minus the advantage of ghostly interviewing techniques “reflect” on what she would have made of TODAY’S ecological Bushwackers? Margery’s ROG is a phosphorous intolerant eco-system and as measured in parts per billion (PPB) anything above ten PPB spells/numbers TERMINAL decline. Giant Cattails (which love phosphorous run offs as much as humans love sweetness)  have replaced the once ubiquitous saw grass. In that sense Cattails are “terminal” markers and all because Big Sugar uses the Everglades as a LATRINE. Who picks up the tab? Certainly not BIG SUGAR.

“There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them…”

The opening words from Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ “Everglades: River of Grass” emphasise the preciousness of the Everglades. She was born on April 7, 1890 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She graduated from Wellesley with straight A’s and the meritorious honour of “Class Orator.” That proved prophetic.

‘In 1915, following a brief and calamitous marriage, she arrived in Miami, working for her father at the Miami Herald. She worked first as a society reporter, then as an editorial page columnist, and later established herself as a writer of note. Here she took on the fight for feminism, racial justice, and conservation long before these causes became popular. She was ahead of her time in recognizing her need for independence and solitude, yet never considered herself entirely a feminist, saying: “I’d like to hear less talk about men and women and more talk about citizens.” Her book, The Everglades: River of Grass, published in 1947—the year Everglades National Park was established—has become the definitive description of the natural treasure she fought so hard to protect. After several reprints, the revised edition was published in 1987, to draw attention to the continuing threats—unresolved—to “her river.” ’