I often think about the way in which we are interconnected, one life to another, in ways we can hardly imagine. I think of movies like, “It’s a wonderful life” or “Crash” or “Family Man” (with Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni)….each of these movies reflect the idea of our interconnectedness, each in a different way. My recent visit to Agua Pietra, Mexico raised this concept for me once again. I’m sure there is a lot of synchronicity in the work of C.R.R.E.D.A. – the rehab center – but I am mostly thinking about this after our visit to Just Coffee. Or, as they call it “Just Coffee, Caffeine with a Conscience.”
The story of Just Coffee is a story of networking at its best. First there is the Presbyterian church (USA and Mexico)and their combined ministry with the Episcopal Church on the border of the US and Mexico. Immigration on the southern border is so complex that it cannot be simply reduced to “illegalities.” Doing so removes all of our (the US) responsibility from the issues. Simply said the issue is financial and has a lot to do with farming, particularly coffee.
I don’t really understand, in a comprehensive way, all the economic factors. But what I do understand is that large coffee companies are underpaying coffee growers and reselling coffee at profit margins that benefit the company and not the farmer. As a result farmers are selling their land and moving to cities where they are unable to find jobs. Or they continue to farm their land but have to supplement it with, oh, say, cocaine. Or, they have some family members farm the land while other family members try to come north to make a living and support the family.
Fair Trade Coffee is turning this picture around, and Just Coffee is one example. Supported by Frontera de Cristo, farmers from Chiapas, Mexico are joining together to develop the company and the farms. It all began with one man, Eduardo Perez Verdugo. Eduardo left his home in Chiapas after Hurricane Mitch which followed on the heels of the dramatic fall in coffee and corn prices, all of which undermined the financial structure of his community.
Eduardo migrated 2000 miles north, from Guatemala to Agua Pietra. The year was 1999 and at that time there was still a lot of factory work in Agua Pietra. Eduardo joined the Lily of the Valley Presbyterian Church. After a time of factory work Eduardo was offered a better paying job at a golf course in Phoenix and on Oct. 4, 1999 he migrated, illegally over the border. Not long afterward Eduard was caught by the Border Patrol, having fallen and severely injured his knee. He was sent back to Mexico. No one in his church knew he was planning on leaving. At his return the church rallied around to support him while he recovered from injuries. He told the Pastor, Mark Adams, that “Leaving our land is to suffer.” For a coffee farmer, of many generations, leaving his land was to suffer.
Out of that statement blossomed the idea for the Cafe Justo, Just Coffee. First there was a conversation with people in Chiapas investigating the possibility of a coffee growers co-op. From that conversation a large number of the farmers agreed to join. The difference is, 60 cents for a 125 pound bag of unroasted coffee beans paid by the large companies, or $1.38 for the same bag, paid through the co-op. The farmers grow and transport the coffee beans from Chiapas to Agua Pietra, to the little shop in the photo above. In a simple three room facility the coffee beans are roasted, ground or not, bagged, and shipped. They have two roasters, a small one that cost $9000.00 and is electric – and a large one (capable of roasting 40 pounds in 10 minutes) that is electric and gas, that cost $40,000.00 – paid in half by the co-op and half by the Lily of the Valley church.
Now most of the farmers in Chiapas participate in the co-op, making a living wage, keeping families together, and regaining their dignity and self-respect. Changing lives, one cup of coffee at a time. How cool is that?
For more information, or to order coffee, click on the link to Cafe Justo, on this page.