Citizenship status prevents Colorado mushroom farmer from accessing the capital he needs to grow his business
My name is Irving Reza and I am a farmer and owner of Sugar Moon Mushrooms in Bennett, Colorado. I got my start in agriculture back in 2018 when I became a farm apprentice for the GrowHaus in Denver. During a year-long apprenticeship, I worked at the hydroponic, aquaponic, and mushroom farms that are part of the GrowHaus’ food access programming. Throughout the year, I developed skills in urban agriculture that eventually led me to manage the mushroom operation. With this experience, I was able to launch my own business, Sugar Moon Mushrooms, in 2020.
As an undocumented Latinx farmer with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, I’ve come up against several challenges in my career, both in and out of agriculture. Before I began farming, I attended college in Denver where I majored in political science and dreamed of working in politics. I had a hard time finding work, however, due to the fact that my DACA status prevented me from holding positions in political offices. I decided I needed to change the path I was on, and that’s when I sought out the apprenticeship at The Growhaus.
Since I began farming, my DACA status has prevented me from applying for many private and federal grants and assistance, as they generally require applicants to be a permanent resident or citizen. Because of my status, I am excluded from all USDA loans and cost-share grants. My business partners at Sugar Moon are U.S. citizens and therefore are able to apply for USDA programs, but I am personally limited in the amount of aid that I can apply for. I believe Congress should allow undocumented farmers to apply for USDA programs so that people like me can grow their farm businesses and provide healthy food for their communities.
I have faced additional barriers to entry into the mushroom market as an undocumented farmer. In my experience, almost all mushroom growers in Colorado are White male farmers with easier access to funding. As a beginning farmer of color, I have received pressure to stay clear from selling mushrooms through certain channels, like the local farmers markets, that would compete with ‘established’ growers.
We would like to expand our operations at Sugar Moon Mushrooms but lack the capital to invest in key infrastructure. A larger farm would allow me to pursue a dream of hiring other farmers of color to assist me in running the business. I’ve seen very little diversity in management positions at U.S. mushroom farms, an issue I aim to change at Sugar Moon Mushrooms. As an undocumented Latinx farmer, it’s my goal to create more opportunities in agriculture, especially in mushroom farming, for other Latinx people.