January 31, 2023
It has not been a Happy New Year for 200 farm workers in Alamosa. As 2022 ended, the Colorado
Mushroom Farm—the largest mushroom farm in the Rocky Mountains—closed shop and declared
bankruptcy. More than 200 low- to moderate-income mushroom farm workers lost their jobs and
livelihood. Many have worked at the farm for more than a decade; are all now uprooted. Farm
closure was also a gut punch to the San Luis Valley, already one of the poorest areas in Colorado.
Losing 200+ jobs in sparsely populated Alamosa is equivalent to the disappearance of 14,000 jobs in
But out of this crisis, there is opportunity. Community leaders are percolating an innovative idea:
converting the failed Colorado Mushroom Farm into a worker-owned cooperative can save jobs and
have a beneficial community impact.
Alamosa’s Colorado Mushroom Farm is massive. Capable of producing ten million pounds of
mushrooms every year, the farm has long dominated the fresh mushroom market from Denver to
Albuquerque. It has been around for 40 years, with many years of profit. However, recent troubles
have led to bankruptcy: a pandemic-related sales decline, non-payment of taxes, thousands of dollars
in unpaid wages, negligence in remediating water safety problems, and multiple legal disputes with
suppliers and shipping companies. The time is right for a change.
My organization, the Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center (RMEOC), promotes a more
fair and just economy by promoting employee ownership. We believe that a just economy is one
that works for everyone, that is built upon inclusive and sustainable systems, and that provides
equitable opportunity to build wealth. Our current economy benefits too few, at the expense of too
many. But employee ownership is a powerful tool to change that, by giving workers democratic voice
at their workplace, paying good wages, and distributing profits among worker-owners. Worker-
owned businesses are rooted in their local communities and show concern for broader social
In December 2022, RMEOC conducted focus groups and a survey of about 100 Alamosa
mushroom farm workers—most of whom are low-income immigrants, struggling for
opportunities. They expressed a strong desire to continue working at the farm and were
especially excited about the idea of becoming employee-owners of a cooperative business.
These Alamosa workers want to join the many stories of worker resilience, globally and in the U.S. In
Argentina, over 300 businesses (employing 15,000 workers) were taken over by workers following
the economic crisis of 2001-2002. Still today, most of these recuperated companies are in operation.
In Korea, 350 bus workers took over a bankrupt bus company (Woojin Bus) in 2005 and have
operated their company with success. In Chicago, workers purchased a failing window manufacturing
company in 2012 after seeing two failed ownerships, transforming it into a worker cooperative, New
Era Windows. Right here in Denver, the Main Street Phoenix Project (MSPP) has purchased a
pandemic-distressed restaurant to convert into a worker cooperative. These cases show it is possible
that a failing business can be reorganized as employee-owned.
The challenge right now for Alamosa farmers is gaining the financing and community support to take
over the failing farm from its current owner and refurbish it as a worker-owned enterprise. There are
no other competing mushroom farms in the area and a worker-owned farm can thrive, just as the
Colorado Mushroom farm did in years past.
But there is a condition. Converting a failing Alamosa farm into an employee-owned business
can only be viable when we believe in the importance of saving jobs for vulnerable farm
workers and see it as a broader community problem to solve. When there is a collective effort
among various stakeholders—workers, government offices, foundations, financial
institutions, and community non-profits—this kind of struggling company can be revived as
an employee-owned business, lifting the spirits of hundreds of workers. Now is the right time