The Beans of Empathy
- Categorized in: Main Street Miracle - Past Issues
Dave Baldwin, left, founded Furnace Hills Coffee Co. His daughter, Erin, center, is chief coffee roaster and Lia Moore, right, is her job coach.
The business motto for Westminster’s Furnace Hills Coffee Company is “Special Coffee Roasted by Special People.” At the heart of that motto is Erin Baldwin, 37, the company’s chief coffee roaster, whose Down syndrome condition enables her to see her trade and the world in a unique light.
Erin loves decaffeinated coffee, although she doesn’t like to drink it. As the chief coffee roaster for her family’s burgeoning business, her favorite task is roasting decaffeinated coffee beans. She loves to weigh the beans and smell the rich aroma permeating the air while the beans roast.
The Furnace Hills Coffee Company is the promising initiative of her father, Dave Baldwin. Dave and his wife, Louise, moved to the Furnace Hills area of Westminster about six and a half years ago when Dave became the pastor of Ministries at LifePoint Church in Reisterstown.
Erin, one of the Baldwins’ three adult children, lived in a group home in another state. When things were not going well for Erin there, her parents decided to bring her to live with them.
As they investigated programs for the developmentally disabled in Carroll County, the Baldwins found long waiting lists for services. Not satisfied just to wait for help, Dave Baldwin began to explore ways to create a useful life for Erin in Westminster.
After much research, Dave settled on the idea of a coffee roasting business in which Erin could be the chief coffee roaster. He spent countless hours reading about coffee and talking to people in the business.
In March of 2010, Erin came to live with her parents in the Furnace Hills section of Westminster, and in April, the Furnace Hills Coffee Company was born.
“We started in our house with two small roasters that could each roast a third of a pound of coffee at a time,” said Dave Baldwin. “Each roast was a 37-minute process for Erin. It took us all week to roast 10 pounds of coffee.”
By summer the Baldwins were providing all the coffee for the Video Café at LifePoint Church and selling their product at the Downtown Westminster Farmers Market on Saturdays.
In September, Dave hired Lia Moore, a Walden University graduate student in mental health counseling who lives in Westminster, as a job coach for Erin, to supervise the roasting and packaging processes.
Positive response to the fledgling company led Dave Baldwin to envision what has become the mission statement of the Furnace Hills Coffee Company: “To employ more and more developmentally disabled people in Carroll County with the objective of contributing financially and relationally to other organizations in developing countries that work with the developmentally disabled.”
Baldwin is slowly bringing his vision to life in numerous ways, including buying organically grown coffee from direct-trade companies that ensure that growers receive a fair price for their product and donate a portion of their proceeds to help the developmentally disabled in the Ukraine or to aid community development projects in Southeast Asia. The Baldwins hope that continued growth will allow them to employ other disabled persons from Carroll County in the near future.
“The best part of this venture,” notes Dave Baldwin, “is all the good we can do, the positive impact we can have here in our community and around the world.”
In May, the company opened a storefront at 71 West Main Street in Westminster. The renovated space centers on a new machine that can roast almost three pounds of coffee beans in about 5 minutes.
Erin and Lia work there three days a week filling orders for the company’s growing list of loyal customers. Under Lia’s competent guidance, she and Erin roast coffee, bag the brown flavorful beans and label the bags with the special Furnace Hills Coffee Company label. Dave Baldwin expects the company to be roasting and selling almost 200 pounds of coffee each week by the fall.
Although it is primarily a roasting business, with huge burlap sacks filled with green coffee beans awaiting processing, Dave Baldwin thinks the Main Street store may also evolve into a place where folks can come in, enjoy a cup of coffee and enjoy Erin’s bright smile and the aroma of roasting coffee beans.
Read more about Furnace Hills Coffee Company and their coffees on their website, www.furnacehillscoffee.com.