Farm workers unite to launch co-operative flower market in Riverhead

Miguel Flores has spent the past 20 years since moving to the United States from El Salvador working in nurseries in the East End. Today, after two decades of employment by others, he is one of a group of 10 farmworkers seeking to chart a new course in farming.

On Sunday morning, East Quogue’s Mr Flores and other members of the Long Island Farmworker Cooperative could be seen setting up plants outside their new weekly flower market on Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead. Events are a chance for the group to diversify.

“This break is really beneficial for me,” Mr. Flores said through a translator on Sunday.

The director of the new group, Juan Antonio Zuniga, said the cooperative was officially founded 10 months ago with six members – immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico – to create capital for agricultural workers. . The organization used donations to buy the flowers sold Sunday at Hispanic nurseries on Long Island. The long-term goal is to obtain financing for the cooperative to purchase land and greenhouses in order to sell its own product.

“Our main goal is to be independent from a capitalist system, to be the creators and owners of our own advantages and at the same time to be an example for the immigrant communities in this country,” said Mr. Zuniga. “We want everyone to know that ‘Yes, we can.’ As migrant workers we can succeed, as workers we can develop our own future.

Angel Reyes Rivas of Rural Migrant Ministries said most members of the cooperative are nurserymen who maintain full-time employment. They met weekly at the Grace Episcopal Church property, where the market will be held every Sunday, to plan for this week’s launch. They plan to come back with even more plants in the coming weeks.

Rivas said Zuniga had been planning the co-op for two years, but things really took off during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think after the pandemic he was able to convince the other workers… [since] they haven’t really worked during the pandemic,” he said. “Some are undocumented so they haven’t received any kind of unemployment or any other help. They have noticed that if they work for someone and something like this happens there is nothing they can do.

Member Catalino Cruz said he participates in the co-op for his children.

“I want them to be able to just own their own thing and not work for someone else,” he said.

Mr. Flores, who is solely focused on the cooperative and is trying to make it a full-time job, said he and his father participated in a similar organization for coffee growers in El Salvador. The cooperative system is the one in which he “believes”.

“I ask that you continue to support our work and continue to buy flowers and plants so that we can continue to grow,” he told those in attendance at Sunday’s opening.

The Long Island Farmworker Cooperative Flower Market will be held each Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 573 Roanoke Ave. at Riverhead.

Terisa K. Carn