Café Justo: coffee with a splash of social justice

Café Justo: coffee with a splash of social justice

By Annette Mikat

There is so much to love about coffee: the smoky, nutty aroma that fills the room; the piquant earthiness with notes of fruit or caramel; the comforting warmth that spreads through your core as you sip. When your cup comes with a shot of social justice, it’s even better.

Café Justo — or Just Coffee — is a grower-owned coffee co-op operating in partnership with Frontera de Cristo, a Presbyterian border organization, and its Love Mercy, Do Justice ministry that bridges neighboring communities Agua Prieta, Sonora, and Douglas, Arizona. The co-op began coffee sales in 2003 to help local coffee growers create and sustain a small-scale international coffee company.

By controlling every aspect of production, from growing and harvesting the coffee beans in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico, to roasting, packaging and shipping them in Agua Prieta, Café Justo can charge a fair price for its product. Just pricing allows Café Justo to pay livable wages and benefits to its local workers, thereby addressing poverty, a root cause of migration. The pricing also allows Café Justo to give back to the local community in other ways, such as improving the community cemetery, providing a water treatment plant, offering coffee at wakes and supporting school projects.

“We want gospel values to be represented in how we treat those who are seeking refuge or fleeing extreme poverty or violence, and we want to move beyond just the humanitarian piece,” says Pastor Mark Adams, co-founder of Frontera de Cristo and Café Justo. “Sometimes it’s easier to just pick up people from the side of the road. But if we keep finding people on the side of the road in the same place, sooner or later, we have to figure out how to fix the road.Café Justo gives people a reason to stay off that road.”

Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Joyce Blum knows what can happen to people traveling that journey. In the 1990s, after ministering to people on death row in the Arizona State Prison in Phoenix, she created a border chaplain ministry, placing her in the middle of Pastor Mark's work in Douglas and Prieta. During her time there, Sister Joyce traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, placing water stations, creating first aid tents, feeding hungry migrants and, sadly, gathering the bodies of those who perished in the desert.

Café Justo: coffee with a splash of social justiceCafé Justo: coffee with a splash of social justiceCafé Justo: coffee with a splash of social justice
Photos courtesy of Café Justo

Sister Joyce continues to connect with people there. This summer, she returned to the border in Agua Prieta with Charlotte Willenborg and Tim Sullivan, affiliates with FSPA. Every day at 2 a.m., they would walk across the border to serve people who had been detained overnight and return to Mexico in the afternoon. They then served at the Migrant Hospitality Center where they provided food, bathing facilities and clean clothes and cared for migrants’ physical maladies like blisters, cactus wounds and upset stomachs.

Her close relationships in the region have allowed her to see how Café Justo is reversing migration there. Salvador Urbina residents who made it across the border to the U.S. are now reuniting with their families and returning to work with Café Justo.

The Café Justo model has proven so effective that Sister Joyce and Pastor Mark are working to grow and replicate it in other Mexican communities with an extra $30,000 from a Seeding a Legacy of Healing grant from FSPA.

Grant proceeds are funding the purchase of Café Justo products to serve guests at migrant, homeless and domestic violence shelters on the border. They are also directed to Love Mercy, Do Justice marketing campaigns to increase sales and educate North American Christians about the connections between their economic choices and migration.

Bilingual student interns Yirel Pacheco in Mexico and Jessica Blake in the U.S. are developing interpretive materials. They are creating a webpage, blog and, with the help of another intern, Xander Greenway, a video.

For Sister Joyce, however, the grant represents something more extensive. She sees it as both an amplifier and a bridge. “This legacy grant is a seed to voice the immigration challenge, to call for us to welcome needy families seeking refuge,” she says. “Our relationships bridging both sides of the border can build friendships and allow the holy spirit to heal so much brokenness that exists on our planet. We must remember that we are all in this together.”

To order coffee from Café Justo and keep that warmth in your core all day, visit


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