By Emelina Rosa
HAVANA TIMES – Last week I escorted a group of three US citizens, one visiting from Tucson and the other two from Pennsylvania, to Agua Prieta, Sonora. Our first stop was Café Justo y Más, Agua Prieta’s coffeeshop, meeting place, and coffee-roaster.
While we enjoyed a round of espresso drinks, a long-time associate of Café Justo (Fair coffee) explained how the project got started. In the late 1990s, the price paid to coffee farmers had fallen so low that many were abandoning their farms and coming to the US – Mexican border to find work. Farmers were paid as little as 25 cents per pound while US consumers were paying $3 a cup.
Mark Adams, a Presbyterian preacher serving Douglas and Agua Prieta since 1998, met Daniel Cifuentes, a coffee farmer from Chiapas who came to the border looking for work. They looked for ways to keep farmers on their land and decided to start a business buying green coffee beans directly from growers and returning the profits to the coffee-growing community.
They recruited Tommy Bassett, a former civil rights activist who was managing a factory in Agua Prieta and they obtained a $20,000 loan from Frontera de Cristo, a Presbyterian border ministry. They convinced farmers in Daniel Cifuentes’ community of Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, to sell to them on credit and brought the first load of green beans to Agua Prieta.
In the early days, they roasted the coffee in a big pan over an open fire. With the first grant, they bought a roaster, and then a larger one. Twenty-five families participated the first year, then ten more the second year. Today Café Justo is shipping 60,000 pounds of organic, shade-grown coffee every year, mostly in one and five-pound bags.
Café Justo is a grower-owned cooperative. The growers themselves determine the price for their beans, which is now $2.73 per pound. They remain on their land and control of every stage of the process. In fact, they own the entire business and employ the people who roast, package, and sell the coffee, where most of the profit is made. Much of the coffee is sold to churches in the US on a solidarity model keeping marketing costs low.
In 2016, Café Justo expanded the building housing the roaster and opened Café Justo y Más (Just Coffee and More), a coffeehouse serving a variety of coffee drinks, teas, sodas, and desserts. Open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., the Café sponsors a number of events, including concerts, English and Spanish lessons, and photo exhibits. It is our essential meeting place, where politicians breakfast, poets scribble, lovers flirt, and activists plot the next demonstration.
This project could be expanded, and it could be replicated in other communities. Now if only they would serve soup, or tamales and atole (warm corn drink), we would never go home.
Our friends from Tucson and Pennsylvania were thrilled with the coffee and the project. They are planning to come back for a tour. Café Justo sponsors group tours and immersion experiences in both Agua Prieta and Chiapas. Their website is justcoffee.org.