The idea for an immigrant farmworker-owned farm stand blossomed into reality in Riverhead on Sunday with the grand opening of the Long Island Farmworker Cooperative.
Ten Latino cooperative members, with the help of statewide advocacy group Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc., launched their first Sunday flower sale in hopes of continuing the weekly market through the season.
"All dreams start with a seed," said Suffolk County Director of Human Services Olga El Sehamy who delivered a proclamation to the group on behalf of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
A collective will allow its owners to reap the economic benefits of their own labor as well as set an example for other immigrant communities in the country, members said.
"I am doing this for my children and the future," member Catalino Cruz, who is from Mexico and now lives in Riverhead, said through a translator. "I want them to be able to own their own thing and not work for somebody else."
The stock, which on Sunday included petunias, geraniums, marigolds, vegetables and more, is currently purchased from other immigrant-owned nurseries. The goal, however, is to raise enough capital to purchase land and build a greenhouse to grow their own crops within the next two years.
The market will be open on Sundays outside Rural & Migrant Ministry, Inc. office at 573 Roanoke Avenue.
One of the reasons the members are hopeful the venture will be successful is because they have seen the model work before.
Miguel Flores of East Quogue said his father was an owner in a coffee collective back in El Salvador which sold their product directly to large companies. Flores previously worked for a local tree farm for more than a decade, but hopes the cooperative can become his full-time job.
"This is really beneficial for me," said Flores who has lived in America for 20 years. "It will benefit my family that’s here in the United States, as well."
Angel Reyes Rivas, Rural & Migrant Ministry's Long Island coordinator, said the organization provided the space as well as business training and helped plan the governance of the cooperative. It does not derive a profit from the operation, Reyes Rivas said.
The idea coalesced about 10 months ago after some of the members in the country illegally realized they would not receive government assistance if they were sick or out of work during the worst of the pandemic. Owning their own business would have given them greater financial security, Reyes Rivas said.
"The workers here, they've experienced a lot, they put a lot of effort into this," he said. "And many of these workers, they have gone through COVID, their families have gone through COVID. And for them to just fight against all of that and make this happen, for me, it's really emotional."