Workers Hope Tree-Planting Cooperative Will Take Root

By Jones, Arthur | National Catholic Reporter, October 15, 1993 | Go to article overview

Workers Hope Tree-Planting Cooperative Will Take Root


Jones, Arthur, National Catholic Reporter


MOUNT ANGEL, Ore. - Everything seems to be stacked against the hope behind a proposed tree-planting cooperative here, the Oregon Reforestation Cooperative.

The tree planters have no money. Timber is a declining industry. The grueling work is seasonal. The competition for federal and corporate tree-planting contracts is tough. Profit margins are low so there is little room to cut bidding prices.

But the Mount Angel-area Mexican-Americans and Mexicans who want the cooperative know the alternative - working for someone else until, as Juan Mendoza said, "after 10, maybe 15 years, your body starts going."

Four years ago, the people of St. Joseph's Parish, Salem, understood, and through Fr. Arnold Beezer provided the group with its first $400 - to pay for a telephone. Oregon legal services helped with the formal organization; a local venture capitalist voluntarily drew up the applicants' business plan.

So, earlier this year, the signatures of Mendoza, a community organizer and cooperative secretary-treasurer, and Francisco Barocio, cooperative president, were on the letter that asked the Catholic Campaign for Human Development for a start-up grant.

They have it, $50,000. But even that is conditional - the cooperative needs to find matching funds.

Mendoza talked about the search for money while seated on the grass in front of what was once the Benedictine Sisters' Mount Angel College (and, later, for seven years, Colegio Cesar Chavez, probably the only Latino community-run, four-year college for Mexican migrants in the country). Now it is mainly offices.

The current, all-volunteer co-op is trying to tap a local foundation and has an application into an insurance company for a loan.

"We understand why it's a long road," said Mendoza, who supports himself as a translator in the local court system and government agency network. "It's not easy for people to give a group of Mexicans money just because they want to have a company or something."

The core group of tree planters - meeting around a local immigration project formed originally to combat INS raids - came up with the idea. "We're out there anyway," was the argument, "why don't we organize and bid on the work we're already doing?"

Organizing is not new to people in western Oregon's Willamette Valley Latino community. …

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