The goal of this study is to perform a comparative analysis of agroecological and conventional small coffee farms. We investigated 15 coffee farms in the East region of Minas Gerais, a Brazilian rural region, based on coffee production using a multicriteria analysis with economic, social and environmental factors. The results suggest that agroecological farms perform better than conventional farms in terms of sustainability, reduce labor intensity and improve income stability and the environmental impact, such as agro-biodiversity and forest cover. In particular, the results reveal that agroecological farms, though they have lower levels of coffee productivity than conventional farms, perform better in terms of income stabilization. This result depends on product diversification (such as agri-food products, vegetables or fruits) for local markets, which reduces farmer risks associated with coffee price volatility, improving both the local economy and local food security. Moreover, agroecological farms rely more on labor than capital. Overall, the results of this study reveal that agroecological systems support the socio-economic sustainability of the rural areas under study and suggest the potential of agroecology to boost sustainable development in the East Region of Minas Gerais. In short, the spread of agroecological systems could improve local employment conditions, reducing migration toward large cities and shanty towns in other parts of Brazil. Hence, agroecology systems can represent the main alternative to conventional production systems to improve the well-being and wealth of rural populations in developing countries. The analysis presented in this study is based on a specific case study, but the rural area under study has many similarities with other areas in Latin America regarding all aspects of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Finally, some agricultural policy implications are discussed.