*This article will be updated regularly.
(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.
- Colorado Mushroom Farm Feasibility Study, researched and produced by RMEOC
- Presentation slides from the meeting Feb. 21, 2023 by RMEOC
Articles with more information:
- Alamosa News (2/22/2023) Bankrupt mushroom farm faces uncertain future
- Alamosa Citizen (2/18/2023) Episode 92: Flora Archuleta, SLV Immigrant Resource Center
- Denver Post (1/11/2023): Colorado Mushroom Farm closes, marooning Guatemalan workers without pay
- Colorado Sun (1/8/2023): Unpaid wages, injuries: Colorado Mushroom Farm's dark side
- 9News (1/5/2023): Colorado Mushroom Farm owner walks us through his business
- Alamosa Citizen (9/29/2022): Colorado Mushroom Farm goes out of business & Century Mobile residents consider their options
- Alamosa News (10/4/2022): US District Court filing says Colorado Mushroom Farm is closed
- Colorado Independent (3/19/2018): Undocumented: A life, a home and a family in the rural West
(Updates as of 1/11/2023)
San Luis Valley Updates
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.
- 11/8/22: Philanthropy Colorado SLV Funders meet to discuss the urgencies of Mushroom Farm workers
- 11/9/22: State, DOLA, RMEOC, CHFA, OEDIT, and others meet to discuss the Employee Owner transition and recapitalization of the Mushroom Farm
- 11/15/22: Monthly Agriculture Coalition meeting
- 12/2/22-12/4/22: RMEOC presents the employee ownership concept to the Mushroom Farm community over a series of meetings
- 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.
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."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or Amy Swiatek at Philanthropy Colorado at email@example.com 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.