A ‘CASA’ for LI Farm Workers

Members of the council, local workers and their families gathered Saturday for a tour of the facilities and a discussion of the programs and activities planned at the new center, followed by a Thanksgiving meal. (Photo by Denise Civiletti via RiverheadLOCAL)

A new center for farm workers, known as CASA (Center of Alliance, Solidarity and Accompaniment), recently opened in Riverhead to educate workers in leadership skills, OSHA training, the English language, and workers’ rights, and also provide immigration support, reports Maria Piedrabuena in RiverheadLOCAL. She notes that Long Island is home to 659 farms and some 39,000 acres of farmland, most of it in Suffolk County. The East End, located in the county, includes the township of Riverhead and has a large number of farm workers.

The center is a project between local workers, Rural and Migrant Ministry, the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island — which lent the Grace Episcopal Church, where CASA is located — and the Presbytery of Long Island.

Comprised of a “consejo” or council of about 12 members from different backgrounds, they decide what are the most urgently needed programs in the community.

“We have members in the consejo from Guatemala, El Salvador, even indigenous people — and at least three different languages are spoken,” Rural Migrant Ministry Long Island coordinator Nathan Berger said.

Juan Antonio Zuniga, a Mattituck resident and member of the CASA council, explained that several rural workers had formed a group years ago with the help of the Rural and Migrant Ministry in an effort to organize themselves and talk about the topics that affect them, but without a stable place to gather, it was hard to inspire others to join them.

“Having a center will really make a difference,” he said.

For more from Berger on farm workers on the East End, and why they’re “historically at a disadvantage compared to other types of workers,” plus comments from CASA members and others involved in the initiative, go to RiverheadLOCAL.

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