PAHOKEE, Fla. — The winds blew southwest the day of Pahokee’s Covid-19 vaccination drive, which meant the sugarcane fields were ablaze. Growers are banned from burning excess leaves when there’s an eastward breeze, to keep fumes away from the gated communities of Florida’s Gold Coast 40 miles away. Pahokee is in the same county but, with a median personal income of $13,674, its residents live in a different world.
A single highway connects the billionaire’s club of Mar-a-Lago to the working-class western edge of Palm Beach County, the vast shopping malls and mimosa-drenched restaurants giving way to acres of endless, flat fields. There are no buildings to break the horizon, only the desolate, empty beauty of farmlands reaching to meet the sky, with distant spirals of black smoke rising up to the gathering clouds.