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Coffee cooperative satisfies customers, stems migration

Café Justo gets a big boost from Presbyterian funders, coffee lovers

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Adrian Gonzalez, Cafe Justo customer relations director, stands alongside a roaster purchased with help from the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

AGUA PRIETA, Sonora, Mexico — With Presbyterians among its earliest and most passionate customers, the Café Justo coffee cooperative just across the border from Douglas, Arizona, grows, roasts, packages, markets, sells and ships nearly 60,000 pounds of coffee annually.

And it’s the growers themselves who determine the prices they need to keep their organic coffee operations robust. While other farmers get up to 90 cents per pound currently, the 110 or so Café Justo farming families decided this year they’d receive $2.73 per pound — as well as a safety net that includes retirement pay and healthcare for their entire family.

But that’s not even the best part of the Café Justo model developed over the last 17 years, Adrian Gonzalez, the cooperative’s customer relations director, told a delegation from the Presbyterian Mission Agency Wednesday after the visitors had enjoyed multiple cups of Arabica coffee. In its own small way, Café Justo is helping to lessen the migration crisis by keeping farmers on their land doing what they do best: growing world-class coffee beans.

“We are seeing migration in reverse,” Gonzalez said. “They are returning to their communities because this is helping families.”

Daniel Cifuentes, who manages the Agua Prieta facility and co-founded Café Justo, said the genesis of the cooperative occurred after coffee prices had fallen about 75 percent during the 1990s. He cited several reasons, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, the devaluation of the peso and amped-up coffee cultivation in places like Vietnam.

“We saw a lot of people (in Mexico) quit cultivating altogether,” he said. “Families lost their land, and that’s when people made the decision to migrate to these border towns, because they knew they could find factory work.”

The cooperative’s marketing strategy allows customers to get to know the families who produced the hot beverage they love.

“We put the farmer’s name on every bag of coffee because we want to build relationships with our customers,” Gonzalez said. Some U.S. customers even journey to Chiapas, the state in southern Mexico, to learn more about how farmers deliver the consistent high-quality taste.

“If you like,” Gonzalez said, “you can visit our farmers and find out how Café Justo has changed their lives.”

Adrian Gonzalez releases the aroma of Arabica coffee by digging into beans picked the day before. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Café Justo takes pride in its product freshness. During Wednesday’s tour, Gonzalez reached deep into a container of beans that had been picked just the day before.

Farmers who join the cooperative must own their own land and must agree to organic farming methods. Their neighbors must be organic farmers as well.

A $20,000 microloan from Frontera de Cristo, a Presbyterian border ministry, got the cooperative operational. Café Justo thought selling 1,000 pounds of coffee during its initial year would be a good start. Instead, it sold more than six tons of coffee. A few years later, a grant from the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People helped Café Justo purchase a $30,000 roaster.

The first floor of the Cafe Justo y Mas coffee shop in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, is a pleasant place to start one’s day. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Café Justo’s Agua Prieta coffee shop, Café Justo y Mas, has sparked the opening of eight other coffee shops in the border community. Gonzalez said he doesn’t mind the competition.

“Most of them buy their coffee from us,” he said with a laugh. “We are totally OK with that. We want to see job opportunities here in Mexico.”

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s president and executive director, said the Café Justo vertical integration business model can be considered a Matthew 25 ministry, because it helps eradicate systemic poverty by allowing the cooperative’s farmers to set the price they need so their families can flourish. That’s allowed more and more farm children the educational opportunity to pursue their passion, Gonzalez said, including nurses and lawyers.

“It’s a model I’d like to see them scale,” Moffett said.


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