In the midst of our travels, we had the opportunity last week to visit fellow mission co-workers Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado Escobar and their family living on the U.S./Mexico border. It was so encouraging to be with them and learn more about the significant ministry they have in showing God’s love to people who are passing through that region.
One highlight of our time with Mark and Miriam was a visit to Café Justo, a coffee cooperative that has an office in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Five cooperatives of coffee farmers in the states of Chiapas and Nayarit have come together to form the organization Café Justo (Just Coffee). They harvest, clean, and dry the beans and then ship them up to their roasting and shipping facility in Agua Prieta.
We talked with Carmina (second from right in the picture above), who shared her own story. Her father was a coffee farmer in Chiapas, but the income was insufficient to support his family. She came with him to Agua Prieta when she was 16 to find work in a factory. She worked long hours in a factory and she and her husband were able to make a meager income to raise their two children. She joined Café Justo a few years ago fulfilling orders from the Agua Prieta office. Her father has since been able to return to Chiapas and to coffee farming since the formation of the cooperative. She shared that through Café Justo, coffee farmers now have health insurance and pensions. Their children do not need to quit school and leave home to find work at age 16 like she did, because of the increased wages that they earn from their coffee. She got tears in her eyes as she reminisced about her childhood in the village in Chiapas and shared about how Café Justo makes coffee farming a viable occupation again.
Pedro (above) demonstrated the roasting process for us. He pours in the beans and monitors the temperature while it roasts the beans and separates the hulls. It was fun to watch the beans transform as they bounced around in clothes-dryer like cycles.
Daniel Cifuentes (on right, in above picture) is the visionary and founder of Café Justo. He also was a farmer in Chiapas, who abandoned his farm for economic reasons. He said that the global price of coffee plunged in the 90’s, so the brokers that bought coffee from the farmers were not paying enough to make growing the coffee worthwhile. Several former coffee farmers from Chiapas were part of his church, and so discussions began with Frontiera de Christo how they could organize the cooperative along a fair trade model. Frontiera de Christo was able to help with a loan to purchase the first roaster and an office in Agua Prieta. When they started, the coffee brokers were paying about $35 for a 100-pound bag of green coffee beans, while the cooperative was able to pay the member-farmers $130. In 2002 when the cooperative formed, Café Justo had a goal of selling just one ton of coffee, but they surpassed four tons in that first year. They have since been able to buy a higher-capacity roaster and add more farmers to their cooperatives. Their goal is that sales will continue to increase so that all the coffee farmers in Chiapas will be able to be members. One of the distinctives of Café Justo in the midst of the fair trade coffee world is that the cooperative owns the whole process – from planting the seeds to the roasting. Incidentally, Daniel is an elder at his church and is currently involved in planting a new church in Agua Prieta!
Café Justo has been hailed as a creative and just solution to the problem of illegal immigration into the U.S. – by helping Mexicans have sustainable jobs in Mexico, they are not driven to emigrating to the U.S. out of desperation. We were inspired to see this example of lives being changed and God’s love being celebrated and shown by the church. Maybe someday something similar could happen in Congo?