By Jamie Shafer
Dave Baldwin said God has taught his family many lessons through the launch of Furnace Hills Coffee Company in Westminster, Maryland. One of these lessons is incorporated into their daily operations: “We’ve learned that every person has a special ability,” shared Dave.
Dave and his daughter Erin, who has Down syndrome, partner in the weekly operations of Furnace Hills. Erin, age 40, loves her work, serving as the company’s Chief Roaster. Her daily tasks include coffee measuring, roasting, and bagging. She also helps clean the shop, send mailings, and—one of her favorite roles—sell coffee at local farmer’s markets and festivals.
A Homegrown Business
In 1996 the Baldwins made plans related to how they could help Erin transition to her adult life and future. “We moved her to a residential facility in the Midwest,” said Dave. “She loved it there and things were going well there for her. In 2008, she just didn’t like it there anymore, struggled being there. Even though it was a fine institution, we felt like it was time to bring her home.”
In 2010 they brought her home and began roasting coffee out of their home. Dave said they roasted 10 pounds of coffee a week and thought that was great. They began giving it away to friends and family, but soon there was a growing demand and people wanted to begin buying the coffee. It was a great opportunity to provide Erin with a stable working environment and to plan for a future where the company could hire additional developmentally disabled adults.
The business grew little by little. “We took over our kitchen, then our kitchen and dining room, then our lower level had a ton of beans in it,” remembered Dave with a smile. Eventually they needed to secure a roasting location and begin employing additional workers.
Currently the company roasts 25 pounds of coffee an hour and employs nine workers. Several employees have developmental disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome.
A Positive Impact
Dave shared another lesson that continues to impact the vision and operations of Furnace Hills: “Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world. We learned you can do a lot of bad with coffee and you can do a lot of good with coffee.”
As people of faith, the Baldwins wanted to do as much good as they could with their business. In addition to providing fair employment for developmentally disabled adults, Furnace Hills focuses on:
• Customer satisfaction—It may sound basic, but they produce coffee that simply tastes great. With close to 30 products, they strive to create coffee that they can feel proud of and that customers recommend. Their coffee can be purchased online and through churches, coffee shops, and some stores in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
• Naturally grown product—Furnace Hills secures coffee from places where coffee is “meant to be grown.” They avoid areas that need to use antifungal chemicals, pesticides, or excessive amounts of artificial fertilizer.
• Direct purchasing—Over time, the Baldwins have developed direct relationships with farmers around the world in places like Ethiopia, Bolivia, Indonesia, and India.
• Giving back—The Baldwins are committed to touching lives globally as well as locally. A portion of their proceeds is directed to help several causes, including Mission to Ukraine, Romaniv Orphanage, community development projects in Indonesia, and work with the developmentally disabled in Ethiopia through Global Transformation Network.
Dave and his wife, Louise, have been married for 43 years. He said that they both truly believe everyone can make a difference in the lives of those who are disadvantaged. He also said that last year they were blessed to be able to give away more money to charity than they ever had. And it all began with a step of faith.
“We started this effort without any money, but we knew God was in it. When you follow God’s plans for you, you will see a movement of his Spirit.”
Learn more about Erin and the Furnace Hills Coffee Company online (www.furnacehillscoffee.com).
Jamie Shafer is a communications strategist for Fishhook Communications in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.