Cervila Santiago Dominguez and her husband Lázaro Hernandez Godides have lived in Salvador Urbina, a town in Chiapas, Mexico, their entire lives, relying on the proceeds from their coffee farm to support their family.
They grow only the finest Arabica coffee on their 2.5 hectares (about six acres), carrying on the legacy of his father, also a coffee grower.
But the coffee market has not always been kind to farmers, such as Dominguez and Godides. In the 1980s, changes in the world coffee market caused a collapse of coffee prices. Farmers went from receiving around $120 per bag of coffee to only $20 per bag.
This collapse led to deep poverty and social upheaval for years afterward as many families immigrated to the U.S. for survival, Dominguez and Godides personally felt the impact as all five of their adult children were forced to move away from Salvador Urbina in search of jobs. Two of these children now live in the U.S.
Now Dominguez and Godides’ income is more secure because they work with Café Justo, a partner of West Coast Mennonite Central Committee(MCC) and MCC Mexico.
“When people ask me, ‘So how do we stop migration and help people stay in their communities,' I point at Café Justo and say, MCC works in 54 countries around the world providing and supporting alternatives to migration like Café Justo."
- Saulo Padilla, MCC U.S. immigration coordinator
Café Justo (Just Coffee) is a coffee cooperative that pays a fair wage to farmers -- two or three times the typical payment by commercial coffee operations.
This network currently connects four local farmers’ cooperatives in southern Mexico, where coffee is grown in rich volcanic soil, hand-picked and patio-dried. Then coffee is shipped to Agua Prieta, Mexico, where it is roasted, packaged and sent to customers, including West Coast MCC’s Quilt Shop in Reedley, Calif.
Photo courtesy of Jack Swaim
“When people ask me, ‘So how do we stop migration and help people stay in their communities,' I point at Cafe Justo and say, MCC works in 54 countries around the world providing and supporting alternatives to migration like Cafe Justo,” said Saulo Padilla, MCC U.S. immigration coordinator.
“Cafe Justo gives an immediate answer and hope. Cafe Justo is also a ministry of the church, so God is present in this work,” Padilla said.
“Cafe Justo does not stop in Agua Prieta,” he said, “but its highest impact is in the communities where it is needed most -- in Chiapas, Veracruz, Nayarit -- Mexican states that have suffered much economic displacement of people and forced migration.”
Now, Padilla said, he hears stories of people returning to their communities. Some benefit from microloans that they learn about from Café Justo.
Café Justo reports that Godides is upbeat as he walks to his coffee plants and prunes and manages the trees. He hopes that the success of the cooperative will enable his sons to return home someday.
Photo courtesy of Café Justo
Café Justo is “Fair Trade PLUS” in that it goes beyond just providing a higher payment for coffee. Café Justo is about empowering local farmer cooperatives to reinvest in their communities, paying for health care for their families and providing employment opportunities for their children. It is about being owners of the business, not just coffee share croppers.
Beth Landis, a West Coast MCC board member from Boise, Idaho, recently participated in a learning tour to Café Justo and its warehouse. After learning about the impact of Café Justo, participating in a Bible study and sharing time with the staff, Landis described Café Justo as a “sacred space” shared by all who produce and drink this coffee.
This shared effort helps to bring Christ’s peace and justice into our world, said Nate Yoder, West Coast MCC executive director.
David Bonilla, an MCC Mexico worker, supports this shared effort by helping Café Justo strengthen its business skills, and West Coast MCC has brought about 35 people this year to learn from and then promote the organization.
Café Justo currently ships about 2,500 pounds of coffee each month to customers in the United States but has the capacity to support nearly double that amount. They offer discounts to churches who will serve their coffee during fellowship times.
West Coast MCC encourages you to support Café Justo by ordering coffee and learning more about the organization at www.justcoffee.org. If you are interested in going on a learning tour to Café Justo, contact the West Coast MCC office, 559- 638-6911.