*This article will be updated regularly.

This effort has been iterative and the chronology below captures plans at each update point. We’ve opted to maintain the historical log, with hopes of creating a case study for others to follow in the footsteps of the San Luis Valley community. The latest updates are found at the top with articles and links below. Please note we use "families/workers" in more recent updates as the workers have brought in their significant others and adult children to the pilot effort.

Quick context of what spurred action:

Approximately 100 - 120 families faced an employment crisis alongside wage theft and a housing crisis due to a local mushroom farm closing down. The total number of families that lost their jobs at the Farm is closer to 200 (equivalent to 14,000 jobs in the Denver Metro area). Funding for immediate needs is still needed, see below. Partners for expertise and funding for mid and longer-term needs are needed, see below. Please reach out to Alece Montez at amontez@ajlfoundation.org with suggestions, ideas, connections, or funding. This challenge is really calling for more support outside of the Valley’s capacity and resource levels. 

(Updates as of 2/16/2024)

Current efforts:

The Sand Dunes Mushroom Cooperative (SDMC) faced some challenges in finding a warehouse to rent and set up for a 1-2 year period; harvest season in the San Luis Valley leaves little warehouse space for anything but potatoes and other amazing foods grown in the Valley! The SDMC finally found a space to set up but needed to get electrical work done and saw some delays in the permitting process. The goal is to have mushrooms for sale in March this year.  After months of training, finding experts to share lessons and insights on where to buy equipment, tracking products and so much more, the team is ready for the next step of growing and selling! They will still be in pilot mode this year as they learn the business side of owning their own company - but they are well on their way!

Recent successes include:

  • Emerald Gardens Microgreens , also part of East Denver Food Hub, welcomed the Cooperative to share their knowledge and expertise and began an early partnership both with shared values to help community have healthier affordable food options, create jobs, and implement growing techniques that are better for the enviornment.
  • Created a fundraising page to raise $20,000. This will help purchase additional items and reimburse for costs not covered by a recent grant.
  • The Cooperative has purchased grow tents, a sterilizer for substrate bags, built an incubation room, and are waiting for electrical to get installed so they can get their misting systems going.

 

Getting the warehouse set up in Feb. 2024
Getting the warehouse set up over winter, Feb. 2024.

 

Setting up over the winter.
No heat in the warehouse yet but hearts are full and excitement fills the air! Feb. 2024 SDMC Cooperative members
Setting up over the winter.
SDMC Cooperative members teaming up to get the warehouse ready! Feb. 2024

Upcoming meetings/efforts:

  • The Cooperative still needs some equipment i.e. bagging machine, commercial refrigerators, substrate materials, and office equipment like a computer, printer, etc. They've started a fundraiser here: https://givebutter.com/p9ifhs. They are awaiting a grant but unfortunately some expenses won't be covered by the time the grant is received (it doesn't cover expenses before funds are sent, i.e. rent, lumber purchased, etc.).
  • Continue to meet with Emerald Gardens Microgreens to buy bulk items together and share in costs for marketing, distribution, and overall messaging about how important it is to purchase food locally.  The Cooperative can purhcase sterilized substrate bags from Emerald Gardens if their electrical work continues to be a delay.
  • They will attend events in the San Luis Valley to market their products starting in March.

Past meetings/efforts:

  • 1/27/24: the Cooperative began building their incubation room and setting up for growing mushrooms! 
  • 1/5/24: met with Emerald Gardens Microgreens who are also part of East Denver Food Hub to link up efforts for marketing and ensuring healthy food gets to people that need it.
  • 10/14/23: another group of families/workers will travel to Grand Lake for training on bagging, making substrate, inoculating, sterilizing, and more. This group includes the people that predominately speak Q’anjob’al.  
  • Families learned additional mushroom growing techniques at the Emerald Gardens Microgreens where the Emerald Gardens team graciously shared their business tools as well. The mushroom farm workers have now learned how to do the technical side of growing mushrooms, i.e. spore printing, spawn production, agar plates, etc. as well as continued training in making substrate and bags, inoculating bags, sterilizing, etc.
  • 10/7/23: the families/workers met in person for a full day of employee coop training and furthered their work to be officially established as an independent entity.
  • 8/19/23-9/30/23: mushroom harvesting continued through this period and the workers kept the mushrooms to learn how to cook them and speak to what they tasted like.
  • 8/20/23: The workers/families attended their first full-day training on moving their employee cooperative forward. They decide they want to be named Sand Dunes Shrooms Cooperative (in a few weeks they change the name to Sand Dunes Mushroom Cooperative)
  • 8/19/23: the first ands-on mushroom growing training was completed by the workers! Mystic Mountain Mushrooms provided equipment and materials for the families, past Colorado Mushroom Farm employees, to do hands-on training in Alamosa. A warehouse was rented from a local businessman/rancher, Mr. Leroy Martinez and Mrs. Rosalie Martinez; with their support, the workers had a warehouse to train in for two months.July 1, 2023, Mushroom Farm workers met with RMEOC, Mystic Mountain Mushrooms, local nonprofits (Shooting Stars Culture and Leadership Center and SLV Area Health Education Center) and funders to learn about exotic mushroom farming and employee coop next steps. Feedback from this meeting will shape training scheduled for Aug. 19 and 20. Workers are interested in pursuing the bankruptcy site 
  • 8/1/23: the workers secured a warehouse to temporarily grow mushrooms and train on how to harvest with the new growing approach.  A grow tent is set up and preparation begins for training on Aug. 19 and 20
  • 6/16/23: Mushroom Farm workers met to learn about and make a decision together about growing organic mushrooms using a more environmentally friendly and physically less demanding way of growing mushrooms that also uses no chemicals. There were lots of questions and interest in potentially going to Fort Lupton to learn more about the growing techniques.
  • 5/18/23: Advisory Team, majority of the team are local SLV community and Farm workers, will meet to discuss next steps regarding worker engagement, assess the property for purchase, meet with bankruptcy trustee, and securing funding for workers stipends to attend meetings. Meeting will include Farm workers that are monolingual Q’anjob’al.
  • 5/2/23: Minsun Ji,  from the RMEOC, and Michael Sousa, DU Professor/bankruptcy consultant, meeting with Attorney for the US Trustee to discuss the status of the bankruptcy case at the Farm. 
  • 4/27/23: The feasibility study is complete. Working with a bankruptcy expert to assist the workers in potentially purchasing the Farm. Need funding: 1) to bring a mushroom expert from PA to CO to help assess whether the current site or a new property is the best next step, 2) for worker stipends to attend trainings on employee ownership, 3) to support rental of meeting space and food for multiple trainings, 4) for child care and language interpretation/translation services, 5) for the purchase of the existing property and 6) for assessment of the property for environmental remediation, soil quality, etc.
  • 4/27/23: Matis Francisco from SLV AHEC is working to bring Farm workers to the first Advisory Team meeting.
  • 4/19/23: SLV Immigrant Resource Center is working with the Division of Labor and Colorado Legal Services to assist the mushroom farm workers in getting the money that is owed to them. As of 4/17/23, they have thirty-three (33) claims filed by former employees. The amount owed to these individuals is over $60,000 total. Also, The Division of Labor just sent them a Department of Homeland support letter to be able to assist undocumented individuals in applying for work authorization.
  • 4/19/23: An Affinity Group was created to tap into all forms of capital to support community with the Mushroom Farm effort. See the PPT here. An Advisory Committee is being formed and includes a driving voice from community impacted by the Farm closure and local ties to provide support. A bankruptcy professional has been hired to support and is communicating with the Attorney for the US Trustee to share SLVs interest in purchasing the Farm.
  • 3/22/23: Local community leaders are part of the Affinity Group and Jason Medina from the Community Foundation of San Luis Valley presented and shared they can help support. He and the local community shared how important the Farm is to the community. Minsun shared updates from the bankruptcy. It was recommended that we get professional support with the bankruptcy.
  • 2/21/23: Interested partners, state staff from OEDIT and DOLA, and funders met to hear findings from RMEOC's Alamosa Employee-Owned Mushroom Farm: Feasibility Study. The findings support that "employee-owned conversion is operationally, technologically, and financially feasible. Conditions to support feasibility include sale of the farm to a worker cooperative, installation of “Dutch” growing system equipment, and the ability to access approximately $10-$12 million in financing for farm purchase, facilities remediation, and startup capital." Read the summary presentation here and the full feasibility study here.
  • 2/18/23: Minsun Ji (Ph.D.), Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Employee OwnershipCenter (RMEOC), met with mushroom farm workers and their families in Alamosa
  • 12/2/22-12/4/22: RMEOC presents the employee ownership concept to the Mushroom Farm community over a series of meetings
  • 11/15/22: Monthly Agriculture Coalition meeting
  • 11/9/22: State, DOLA, RMEOC, CHFA, OEDIT, and others meet to discuss the Employee Owner transition and recapitalization of the Mushroom Farm
  • 11/8/22: Philanthropy Colorado SLV Funders meet to discuss the urgencies of Mushroom Farm workers

Resources:

Vimeo:

Articles with more information:

(Updates as of 10/11/2023)

Seven families are in the process of learning how to grow exotic mushrooms while also training for their own employee cooperative. This pilot effort of beginning with a small number of families has helped the workers become a community that makes decisions together while they build a collective employee-owned business - talk about solidarity economy! 

Successes include:

  • The workers have named their employee cooperative Sand Dunes Murshoom Cooperative and they are currently working on and making decisions for their bylaws and governance documents.
  • Hands-on mushroom growing training in both Alamosa and Grand Lake with training to continue through December. This new approach to growing mushrooms is much safer, cleaner, will yield a higher value and will be less labor intensive than the mushrooms grown at the Farm where people in the pilot effort previously worked.
  • We anticipate that the workers will have mushrooms available for sale by December 2023 when they will begin to fully establish their own coop as a standalone entity.
  • The workers are planning to build a coop that makes a profit so they can bring in more families and help pay for emergency situations that are needed in the community, i.e. repair a vehicle, help pay for utilities, etc.

(Updates as of 7/11/2023)

The Mushroom Farm effort still includes the potential purchase of the bankrupt Colorado Mushroom Farm site and with the direction and guidance of the workers, we’ve added an additional pilot effort to help the workers get back to work growing exotic mushrooms. The pilot effort could change the way mushroom growing is done in the Valley and is much more environmentally friendly and opens the door for the workers to have income well above previous wages. 

Upcoming meetings/efforts:

 On August 19 and 20, 2023, Workers and their families will travel from the San Luis Valley to Fort Lupton for two days of training on exotic mushroom growing. 

July 15, 2023, Advisory Team Meeting with workers/families to help shape the training on Aug. 19 and 20. Topics include marketing, warehouse efforts in the Valley, and needs as they move forward with this pilot effort.

Continued Immediate Needs (7/11/23)

Funding is needed to support an urgent need for gas (100 $50 gas cards), basic needs and hygiene items, food, rental, mortgage, and utility assistance. Donations can be made to the Community Foundation of SLV.

There is a pro-bono attorney working on the bankruptcy case; however, we are in urgent need of funding for a Colorado-based attorney to present the case in Colorado. More information is available with Minsun Ji, Executive Director at the Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center, minsun@rmeoc.org. 

There’s an urgent need for warehouse space to hold the mushroom growing tents in the Valley. We need enough space for 6 10x10 tents. 

Mid- and Longer-term Needs

Mid-term: There are temporary in-kind donations for racks, commercial refrigerators, flow hoods, and more; however, funding will be needed for the workers to purchase their own equipment.

Longer-term: While we are working on securing the previous Mushroom Farm site, there’s no guarantee that we successfully acquire that through the courts. Longer-term needs potentially include land and the construction of a 6,000-square-foot warehouse that would include a lab, breakroom, and daycare.

Organizations currently in conversation and action to aid the workers include: Local San Luis Valley (SLV) Leaders including the Community Foundation of the SLV, SLV Area Health Education Center, SLV Immigrant Resource Center, City of Alamosa, SLV Agricultural Coalition, First Southwest Community Fund, First Southwest Bank and groups outside of the Valley area include: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Department of Local Affairs, Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center, Colorado Department of Agriculture, and the San Luis Funder cohort from the Philanthropy Colorado network of funders. 

Thank you to the Dept. of Agriculture for supporting language services in order to bring the workers/families to the advisory team meetings!

(Updates as of 5/1/2023)

Upcoming meetings/efforts:

May (date, TBD) 2023: Advisory Team, majority of the team are local SLV community and Farm workers, will meet to discuss next steps regarding worker engagement, assess the property for purchase, meet with bankruptcy trustee, and securing funding for workers stipends to attend meetings. Meeting will include Farm workers that are monolingual Qanjobal.

  • May (date, TBD) Pennsylvania mushroom expert brought to the SLV to help assess the property (need access to the property).
  • May 25, 2023: Monthly Affinity Group meeting, contact Alece Montez (amontez@ajlfoundation.org) to be added to the meeting invite.
  • May 2, 2023, Minsun Ji,  from the RMEOC, and Michael Sousa, DU Professor/bankruptcy consultant, meeting with Attorney for the US Trustee to discuss the status of the bankruptcy case at the Farm. 

Continued Immediate Needs (4/27/23)

Funding is needed to support an urgent need for gas (100 $50 gas cards), basic needs and hygiene items, food, rental, mortgage, and utility assistance. Donations can be made to the Community Foundation of SLV.

Mid- and Longer-term Needs

Organizations currently in discussions for a worker coop and potentially purchasing the Farm to support the workers include: Local San Luis Valley (SLV) Leaders including the Community Foundation of the SLV, SLV Area Health Education Center, SLV Immigrant Resource Center, City of Alamosa, Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center, SLV Agricultural Coalition, First Southwest Community Fund, First Southwest Bank, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Department of Local Affairs, and funders.

  • 4/27/23 - The feasibility study is complete. Working with a bankruptcy expert to assist the workers in potentially purchasing the Farm. Need funding: 1) to bring a mushroom expert from PA to CO to help assess whether the current site or a new property is the best next step, 2) for worker stipends to attend trainings on employee ownership, 3) to support rental of meeting space and food for trainings, 4) for child care and language interpretation/translation services, 5) for the purchase of the existing property and 6) for assessment of the property for environmental remediation, soil quality, etc.

(Updates as of 2/22/2023)

Minsun Ji (Ph.D.), Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center (RMEOC), met with mushroom farm workers and their families in Alamosa on 2/18/2023 and interested partners and funders on 2/21/2023 to present the findings from RMEOC's Alamosa Employee-Owned Mushroom Farm: Feasibility Study. The findings support that "employee-owned conversion is operationally, technologically, and financially feasible. Conditions to support feasibility include sale of the farm to a worker cooperative, installation of “Dutch” growing system equipment, and the ability to access approximately $10-$12 million in financing for farm purchase, facilities remediation, and startup capital." Read the summary presentation here and the full feasibility study here.

Next steps include:

  • Groups and organizations that are interested in supporting and being part of the solutions are meeting on March 22, 2023, at 12pm MST. To date, this includes funders, OEDIT, DOLA, First Southwest Bank, Senator Bennett’s office, Apis Heritage, Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center.
  • Minsun Ji is meeting with the Mushroom Farm owner the week of Feb. 22, 2023 and will provide updates to the group at the above meeting.
  • Additional industry-specific meetings will be held to discuss resources available to support the Mushroom Farm employee ownership effort and findings gathered will be revisited at the March 22 meeting.

(Updates as of 1/11/2023)

There are currently 100 - 120 families facing an employment crisis alongside wage theft and a housing crisis due to a local mushroom farm closing down and mobile home park currently up for sale. (11/30/22 update: the San Luis Valley Housing Coalition under contract to buy Century Mobile Home Park. See more updates below.) Funding for immediate needs and partners for expertise and funding for mid and longer-term needs are needed. Please reach out to AMontez@ajlfoundation.org with suggestions, ideas, connections or funding. This challenge is really calling for more support outside of the Valley’s capacity and resource levels. 

Immediate Needs

  • Funding is needed to support an urgent need for gas (100 $50 gas cards), basic needs and hygiene items, food, rental, mortgage, and utility assistance. Note: some families are not able to receive LEAP because they are unable to respond to all the questions identified in the application.
    • Updates: 11/2/22 - Food was delivered on 10/20/2; however, more food is needed because many families won’t or can’t use local food services due to legal status questions, need for identification, language barriers, culturally irrelevant food (i.e. quinoa for Guatemalan people), difficult point systems for free food, transportation challenges, and more. Assistance is still needed for rent/mortgage, utilities, internet, funds for gas cards, and basic needs.
  • Partners currently involved: SLV Immigrant Resource Center, SLV Housing Coalition, SLV Area Health Education Center, and SLV Local Foods Coalition
  • 10/20/22: Bondadosa to deliver 125 boxes of dry goods, seasonal produce, and protein that will support 125 families of 4 for 1-2 weeks. Funders of the initiative: AJL Foundation, Donnell-Kay Foundation, Impact Charitable, and Kenneth King Foundation.

Mid- and Longer-term Needs

  • Community members and partners in early discussion about the potential purchase of Colorado Mushroom Farm to create an employee-owned worker co-op.
  • Groups currently in discussions for a worker coop and potentially purchasing the Farm to support the workers include: Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center, SLV Agricultural Coalition, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and Department of Local Affairs.
  • Update: 11/3/22 - Research for the feasibility study has started. Depending on funding, the study will be done by end of January or February.  We can begin to prepare to take action on those findings by aligning resources across the Metro Area.
  • 10/18/22: Agricultural Coalition, RMEOC discussions around interest and feasibility of employee-owned worker co-op. Discussions to continue, proposal for feasibility study pending.

General insights we’ve heard from SLV community or organizations interested in supporting the SLV Mushroom Farm workers:

  • There’s early interest from Mushroom Farm workers to do an employee-owned coop.
  • Some of the services and supports from nonprofits in the Valley are not available to all farm and agricultural workers because the funds are limited to citizens.
  • Some of the available services in the Valley do not have bilingual staff which creates additional barriers for immigrant communities.
  • There may be early interest from the owner of the Mushroom Farm to sell the Farm.
  • Food delivery from Bondadosa on 10/20/22 was well received and included culturally relevant foods with lots of fresh produce.
  • SLV community leaders shared that they’ve heard the Farm will reopen in November; however, many are very skeptical. 
  • There are questions about where the PPP funds went to support the Farm.
  • Rocky Mountain SER has a grant from the Department of Agriculture to pay farmworkers $600; however, the funds are limited to citizens or DACA community members, no undocumented community members will qualify.
  • SLV Adelante has funds available for farm workers that have not been paid by the Mushroom Farm, AHEC has been helping people fill out the necessary paperwork in concern with Adelante staff.
  • Many people that worked at the Farm are fearful of opening back pay cases against the Mushroom Farm owner for fear of losing a future job there. Location of the Farm to housing is key as some people aren’t able to drive to other jobs.
  • Some workers have found jobs elsewhere in the Valley but are owed months of back pay and are struggling to financially keep up.
  • Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center is planning to host community workshops to learn about the worker coop in early December. The ask is that there are only community members and RMEOC in attendance.
  • A list of families that worked at the Farm is being collected. It won’t be distributed for public review but will provide insight into how many families are still in the Valley and interested in the worker coop.
  • A community needs survey is being launched by Shooting Stars and an event will be held at the Cultural Center on Nov. 9.

Additional Background

Flora Archuleta, the executive director of the SLV Immigrant Resource Center, said the closing of the Colorado Mushroom Farm will displace the Farm’s workforce almost entirely. The workers are primarily from Guatemala and have relied on employment at the mushroom farm to stay afloat in the Valley.

The Farm is now closed and Archuleta believes the workers will be faced with moving out of the Valley. Many of them, she said, have worked there for more than 30 years and have been dealing with bounced checks and unpaid wages as a result of both the COVID-19 period and now the closure of the Mushroom Farm entirely.

She said some people are sitting on three or four checks that they haven’t been able to properly cash. Some employees are owed vacation time and Archuleta said one individual she is aware of is owed $10,000 in unpaid wages.

Century Mobile Home Park Updates

11/30/22 updates: SLVHC has purchased Century Mobile Home Park. Executive Director Dawn Melgares' statement, "With the overwhelming support of the residents, board members, staff, lenders, elected officials, and our community, SLV Housing Coalition (SLVHC) is excited to announce that we are officially under contract to purchase the Century Mobile Home Park in Alamosa. SLVHC has held several meetings with residents to educate them on their rights under the Mobile Home Park Acts in Colorado and learn from them what their needs and preferences are moving forward."

Previous updates:

SLV Housing Coalition has been nominated to purchase the mobile home park if they can get funding approved and an offer in by October 31, with no guarantee the seller will accept this offer. They are working with First Southwest Bank, Elevations Community Land Trust, CHFA, Impact Development Fund, USDA (sewer issues), SLVDRG (local ED council), Weave Social Finance, and others. There has been significant outreach and organizing among the residents; 154 households are living in the park. A majority of the mushroom farm’s employees are community members who live at Century Mobile Home Park. 

They will need $1 million in grants to make it all work without raising rents. They are down to the last 10 days but please know they are not giving up. They ordered the appraisal last week and should have it by end of next week. They need to have their plan in place prior to that date so that the board can formally approve all loans that they might need. If grants can be pledged and are allowed to pay off bridge funding debt they could close with 100% loans and pay off the debt as the grants come in. In summary, they have to have All Loans and Grants Pledged in Writing Before They Can Make an Offer by October 31! Please contact Dawn Melgares at SLV Housing Coalition at dawn@slvhc.com for more information or Amy Swiatek at Philanthropy Colorado at aswiatek@philanthropycolorado.org to connect with other interested funders.  


Please reach out to Alece Montez at AMontez@ajlfoundation.org or 303.517.8221 for updates or to be looped in on any related initiatives.