Despite the blood-for-drugs and slaughter of migrants news coming from Mexico in 2010, I found much to celebrate in central and southern Mexico that illustrates the good intentions of the Mexican people and pays tribute to their beautiful land and customs. During two trips I learned how a home for disadvantaged and orphaned boys has provided care and education since the mid-1950s. Secondly, I experienced how the Café Justo (Just Coffee) cooperative is transforming the lives of coffee growers so they can make a living wage, avoid migration to el norte and remain with their families on their land.
Antonio Zapien was a street urchin in Mexico City in the early 1950s, when Scottsman Hugh Hardyman and his American wife Susan acquired an old hacienda in Huejotitan, a village located between Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in the state of Jalisco. The Hardymans' goal was to create a home for disadvantaged and orphaned boys where they would learn farming and animal husbandry skills. By change Antonio was one of the first six boys chosen to live and learn at Casa Hogar. Given the chance, most of the boys went on to college and to careers in veterinary sciences. Since 1955, Casa Hogar and the Hardyman Foundation have provided for hundreds of boys who contribute professional skills to Mexican society. Antonio serves on the Casa Hogar board of directors.
The village of Salvador Urbina is the site of the Café Justo cooperative. Coffee has been the principal cash crop in this mountainous part of the tropical state of Chiapas for generations. During most of those years coffee sales provided for a decent living. But a series of political and economic changes in the ’90s forced prices down to the point where the labor-to-profit ratio was unsustainable. Many in the village were forced to migrate to northern Mexico for work in maquiladoras making goods for the U.S. market. Work there was hard and paid little. When some maquilas moved to China, labor is even cheaper there, many were forced to risk their lives crossing the desert to seek work in the U.S. One who migrated to the border town of Agua Prieta was Daniel Cifuentes. Rev. Mark Adams, a Presbyterian minister serving Agua Prieta, met with Cifuentes to learn about the crisis. They reasoned that if the middleman was cut out of the coffee-to-market equation, farmers in Chiapas would earn a "just" wage for their labor. Former maquila manager Tommy Bassett joined the discussion. Numerous brainstorming sessions lead to a business model that does cut out the middleman, "is simple and optimizes the profits for the growers. The coffee is harvested, cleaned and prepared for shipment to Agua Prieta for roasting, packaging and shipment to customers in the U.S."
It was to Agua Prieta and Salvador Urbina that I traveled with a delegation to learn first hand about Café Justo and its important contribution to, and unique position in, the fair trade movement. By growing and distributing the highest quality coffee, the cooperative also makes it possible for Mexican families to prosper inour shaky world economy. Learn more about Fair Trade Plus and delegation opportunities at www.justcoffee.org. Our delegation also spent some time in Tapachula to witness humanitarian efforts for Central Americans at Padre Scalabrini Migrant Shelter.
View these photographs as windows into the communities where Casa Hogar and Café Justo provide worthy services and good news. The land around them is also extraordinary.