Teena Borek, one of Florida's most accomplished small-farmers -- whose epileptic husband died at 24 -- is one of dozens of Floridians coming forward to support legislation to legalize a mild form of medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.
Her reasons are both personal and unselfish.
"I truly believe if my husband had access to cannabinoids, or CBD, in 1980, he would be alive today," she told Sunshine State News.
Her husband, Steve Borek, was a farmer who worked as a diesel mechanic on the side. He was part of a farming dynasty in Homestead. At 24, he could have run his 500-acre vegetable farm with his eyes closed.
Teena, on the other hand, grew up in a fishing town in Newfoundland, and admitted she didnt know a fungicide from a fertilizer. It was her job to keep the books and bring up their two boys.
What she couldn't have imagined as a young mother of two in those early days on the farm is losing her husband and life partner so soon.
"Steve was an epileptic," she said. "He had terrible grand mal seizures. Over the years the doctors gave him literally dozens of drugs to help, but every one had unbearable side effects."
Some of the side effects Teena remembers today are a grossly swollen throat, a swollen tongue, the inability to swallow or speak correctly, "and some of them messed up his mind ... he was an engine mechanic, too, and he needed to be clear-headed. So don't tell me there are prescription drugs for these things, I've talked to people today and the synthetic medications doctors dole out are no better now than they were then."
The bottom line was this: "Because of those side effects, he wouldn't use them."
One day in 1980 Steve was driving along a road near the house when his pickup flipped into the canal. Epilepsy can be -- and was in this case -- triggered by anxiety. "He suffered a grand mal seizure in his panic to escape from the cab and that was it," Teena said. "He never got out."
Fortunately, married to Steve, Teena developed an affinity for the land and a growing joy in farming it. Those things would make her strong in the tough years ahead. But in the beginning, she had everything to learn. What drove her was her sons, Steven, 2, and Michael, 1. More than anything, she wanted to give them a chance to follow in their father's footsteps and learn the joy of farming for themselves.
"I think it worked," she said. "Both are struggling farmers today."
Against all odds, instead of giving up and selling the farm, Teena Borek became a pioneer in farming practice, creating something of a landmark in Homestead.
In Teena's Pride CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) she runs a highly visible, proactively health-promoting sustainable farm and a community-friendly business. She has served on innumerable agriculture boards, was twice named "Agriculturalist of the Year" in South Dade County and in 2006 Agriculture Secretary Charles Bronson named her "State of Florida Woman of the Year in Agriculture."
Now Teena, at age 60, wants to add her weight to the effort to bring a Charlotte's Web type of relief to those who suffered as her husband did. On Monday she even sent an email to her friend, Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, who has been working with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, to move light-extract medical marijuana legislation through the Florida House.
"First of all," Teena said, "let me say I am dead against recreational marijuana use. I've seen too many families destroyed by it.
"I do, however, firmly believe that the non-addictive medical marijuana (cannabinoids), preferably developed in an oil form, could help many children and adults lead healthier lives, and indeed it would save the lives of people like my husband, who have everything to live for."
She emphasized that it needs to be done right. "I want to see the cultivation of these plants put with safe growers. I want to see it researched in our universities and hospitals. I know that's what (Edwards and Gaetz) are trying to do."
Said Teena, "Once upon a time all of our medicines were plant-based. But pharmaceutical companies turned so many of them into synthetics.
"You know what?" she said. "The NAFTA trade agreement devastated our family farms, some families lost them, some quit and the ones left are barely hanging in there. Safely growing this medical marijuana, on sustainable family farms, in cooperation with the University of Florida research station in Homestead, could revitalize this area while providing a safe plant-based cure for many diseases."
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.