The Daily Catch

Rain Man: Meet Guatemalan Edras Guerra, Irrigation Master at Red Hook’s Migliorelli Farm

Edras Guerra of Guatemala has worked on Ken Migliorelli’s farms for more than 10 years (photo by Victor Feldman).

Editor’s Note: Every summer, roughly two dozen workers arrive to Red Hook’s farms to help with everything from planting tomatoes to harvesting apples. These full-time, temporary employees come from nearby towns in the Hudson Valley, from the Bronx, and from as far afield as Jamaica and Guatemala. Some have friends and family in New York State and have been traveling to Red Hook’s farms since the early 2000s. For others, this will be their first visit. 

This season, The Red Hook Daily Catch is running an occasional series shining a spotlight on several of these workers. We will talk to them and their employers about why they come, what they do, how they selected Red Hook and more. This week, we shift gears slightly, introducing our readers to Edras Guerra, an immigrant from Guatemala who carries a Green Card for permanent residency and who has lived at Migliorelli Farm with his family year-round for more than a decade.

When Edras Guerra wakes up in the summer, he first looks towards the sky to see if rain is on the way. 

At Red Hook’s Migliorelli Farm, the 34-year-old from Guatemala begins his summer days at 6 a.m. managing a team of three other workers who set up water guns and hook up hoses: it’s all part of irrigating the farm’s 150 acres of vegetable crops. Irrigation is a crucial task on every farm, Guerra said, pointing out the window of his truck on a recent Friday morning. “If we don’t spray the water here, there won’t be plants.”  

Founded in 1993, Migliorelli Farm, a 650-acre operation with farming locations throughout Red Hook, is one of Red Hook’s oldest and largest family-run agricultural operations. The farm has become known locally for selling its fresh fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes and peaches, at farm stands in Red Hook, Rhinebeck, Mount Tremper, and at farmers’ markets in the Bronx and Union Square in New York City. 

Guerra’s is a story of love and loss, departing a beloved but challenged country, and hope, as he sought and found a version of the American dream in Red Hook while forging a bond with a boss who has supported his family through a toddler daughter’s health crisis.

“The support of this community here in Red Hook means so much to our family,” Guerra said. 

As for irrigation, the farm’s owner, Ken Migliorelli, is not certain how many gallons per year his farm uses to irrigate the fields. But, he said, “It’s millions and millions of gallons.” 

For Guerra, setting up a patchwork of sprinklers and water guns across all the farm’s vegetable fields, as well as fixing random equipment malfunctions, can take all morning. 

And that’s just the start of a day’s work.

“I like to do a little bit of everything,” Guerra said. He harvests fruits and vegetables – he’s currently picking zucchini – and he also serves as the farm’s handyman, on call to fix broken farm equipment, including malfunctioning tractors. Guerra also drives a truck carrying a diesel tank around the farm to refuel tractors throughout the day. 

Edras Guerra, second from right, with his youngest daughter, Samantha, right; his wife, Sara, far left; and his daughter Rosa (photo courtesy Edras Guerra).

This is a family affair. For some of his work, Guerra is joined by his brothers, Cruz, 50, and Isai, 41, who also live and work at Migliorelli Farm. 

When his work day ends at 7 p.m., Guerra returns home to his wife, Sara, and their two children, Rosa, 13, and Samantha, 6, who live on the farm in a mobile home on Freeborn Lane. His brothers, along with two other families, live in neighboring mobile homes. 

Like his brothers, Guerra has been working at Migliorelli Farm for nearly two decades. He said they all traveled to the United States seeking the same thing: “It was a way to achieve an opportunity that we could not have back home.” 

The brothers found a new home in Red Hook, said Migliorelli. “I think it’s been a win-win situation for the farm and for them to provide for their families,” said Migliorelli. 

For Guerra, moving to the United States may even have saved his family. 

From Guatemala to Kingston

Guerra was born into a family of six brothers and three sisters raised by parents in a small home on the outskirts of Chiquimula, a city of just over 100,000 near Guatemala’s southern border and 3,413 miles by car from Red Hook.  

“We grew up poor,” he said. His mother sewed dresses, and his father grew corn and beans and made cheese and butter from a cow they kept on the small family farm. “I was glad, though,” Guerra said. “Our neighbors didn’t have that.” For meals, his family primarily consumed beans and tortillas.

Each day, after school and farm chores, Guerra and his siblings went to church, making a trek of several miles. “We’d walk to the church using a lantern because there was no light back home,” he recalled. 

Guerra journeyed from Chiquimula, a small city in Guatemala, to make a new home in Red Hook (map by The Daily Catch).

When Guerra turned 13, he was pulled out of school before entering the seventh grade. His father needed him to devote himself full-time to the family farm. Then, one by one, his older brothers began moving to the United States. “There was just no way to advance back home,” Guerra said. 

When he turned 18 in 2002, Guerra followed one of his older brothers to Kingston, N.Y. 

“When I first came, I had no idea what to do,” he said. Growing up speaking Spanish, Guerra had to learn English quickly and overcome his shy way with strangers. “At first, I didn’t want to talk to anyone,” he said. “It was difficult to make friends. Honestly, I was afraid.” Guerra stayed with a brother in Kingston for several months, working odd construction jobs around town. 

Then, his older brother Cruz, who had been working at Migliorelli Farm since 1993, introduced Guerra to Migliorelli. 

Luck brought Cruz and Migliorelli together in the first place. Migliorelli was looking for extra farm hands in the summer of 1993. Cruz was working landscaping jobs in nearby Brewster, and one of his clients knew Migliorelli and relayed that Cruz was looking for extra work.

“So I went down to Brewster and met him, and it just kinda snowballed after that,” said Migliorelli. 

For Guerra, joining his older brother on the farm was a natural next step.

“I was already used to farming a little bit from back home, and I really liked Red Hook,” said Guerra. “It was the size of the town where I grew up.” In 2004, he moved to Migliorelli Farm and began working full-time alongside his brother. 

Tragedy and Kindness

Guerra’s life has been marked by family tragedy. 

After living at Migliorelli Farm for four years, he returned home to Guatemala in 2008. His mother, then 53, was suffering from cancer, and he would stay with her for a year before she died. “It was just horrible,” he said. 

A surprise was also on its way. During his stay, Guerra met his wife, and the couple had their first child. In 2009, Guerra returned to Red Hook. But he could not take Sara and their newborn, Rosa, with him on his work visa. 

Guerra reckons he has tended every inch of the 650 acres Ken Migliorelli farms. Here he poses off Budds Corners Road on land Migliorelli rents (photo by Victor Feldman).

When she was 4 years old, Rosa was diagnosed with leukemia. The local hospital in Guatemala did not offer the care Rosa needed. 

In 2014, in an emergency effort to secure his daughter’s treatment, Guerra was able to obtain a Green Card for his wife and Rosa to join him in Red Hook. 

The next three years were brutal, marked by cancer treatment appointments at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla and sleepless nights worrying about Rosa’s health. “Of course, this time was very difficult,” he said. Guerra and Sara spoke about moving closer to the hospital, but he said Rosa, who was enrolled at Mill Road Primary School at the time, did not want to leave school. 

Throughout her treatment, which ended in 2017 when doctors deemed Rosa cancer-free, Guerra said he was touched by the outpouring of support his family received from the community, especially from Rosa’s teachers.

“When I was taking her back and forth from the hospital, her teachers were always so nice about it,” said Guerra. “They would let her miss school and sometimes bring her homework to us if we could not go to school to pick it up.” Migliorelli allowed him to take time off work to ferry Rosa to doctor’s appointments. “I’m just glad she was able to get such good care here,” Migliorelli said. 

In 2006, Guerra and Sara had their second child, Samantha, on the farm. Samantha, now 6, attends Mill Road Primary School. Rosa is entering Red Hook High School in the fall, and next month, Guerra and Sara are expecting their third child. 

Little House on the Prairie 

Guerra works at the farm most seasons from March through November. In the winter, when there is less work to go around, he often picks up small construction jobs working at houses in the area. “I think if I didn’t do farming, I would be in construction,” he said, grinning. “I like machines and excavators, they have always interested me.” 

In the summer, Guerra takes his family out on the Hudson River in his small fishing boat. “We love that, it’s probably my favorite activity,” he said. He also takes his daughters into Red Hook on occasion to go grocery shopping or to Little Pickles Children’s General Store in the village. “My younger daughter loves toys,” he said. His wife, who raises the children while he’s working, takes the girls to a church in Kingston on Sundays. 

“We like it here,” Guerra said. “Red Hook is a quiet, peaceful place.” And, his family may soon be getting a new home, as the 30-year-old trailer they live in is one of several mobile homes Migliorelli hopes to upgrade with help from Covid relief funds the town of Red Hook is seeking from New York State (read our coverage). “The new trailers are much nicer and better-insulated, so this would be a big upgrade,” said Migliorelli, who provides housing to farm employees at no cost. Farm employees like Guerra are paid between $14 and $17 per hour, Migliorelli said. 

But Guerra knows that no home, no matter how big, can keep his daughters on the farm forever. “My kids don’t really love all the farm stuff,” he said ruefully. “I think they just aren’t interested in farming.” Shaking his head, he added, “Things are so different today then when I was growing up. The kids want to spend all day on their phones instead of playing outside, and they want to speak English instead of Spanish.”

Even if he’s not raising the next generation of female farmers, Guerra is determined that his children will be able to obtain something he never could: a college diploma. “I definitely want them to have that opportunity,” he said. 

And he has dreams for himself. “I’d like to become a U.S. citizen,” he said. “It’s something I’ve started working towards, and Kenny (Migliorelli) will help me.” Guerra’s youngest daughter was born into American citizenship, and Guerra and Sara stay in the United States on permanent resident Green Cards, which allow them to legally work and live in the country. 

Staying Out Of Trouble

“Do I love my job?” Guerra said, pondering the question. “I’m very happy because I get distracted easily, and it’s good that my job requires me to do many little jobs,” he said, adding with a grin that he “tries to stay out of trouble at work.” 

Over the past 18 years, Guerra’s cheery disposition and “can-do” attitude have earned him the respect and friendship of other employees on the farm, all of whom he knows well and many of whom have become close friends. 

“He’s such a team player, he’s mechanically inclined, and he knows how to manage people,” praised Migliorelli. “He could do just about anything.” 

Pointing to a towering water sprinkler on the opposite side of the field, Guerra smiled.  “See that, we were just setting that up this morning, and it’s going to run all day,” he said, then added a helpful admonition. “So try not to get hit with the water when you walk over there.” 

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