By Jessica Hancock
In poor health, given just six months to live, Jeff Ericson was not ready to leave this world without first leaving his mark. After becoming a very successful businessman, he seemed to have everything he had wanted: He was financially stable, had a family and a chain of successful businesses. Things looked great from the outside. But what Jeff had in financial wealth did not make up for his lack of personal wealth. Happiness was elusive and his health was rapidly declining. It was time to make a change. Jeff said it best: “Business is what I do; it is not who I am.”
Jeff, who grew up in religious family, attended seminary but ultimately chose the business path because that he was passionate about. With time of the essence, Jeff wandered back to his spiritual roots, looking for a way to leave the world better than it was. Then he discovered the model for social enterprise; it lay in the second-most-traded commodity in the world: coffee. That’s when the idea for Camano Island Coffee Roasters was born in a barn on the island. Yes, a literal barn.
With social enterprise, everyone is connected. The goal is to create a business that combines the traditional economic growth of a ‘for-profit,’ with the core values of a non-profit. Simply put, you invest in the farmers and the farmers invest in the business. You teach them to think like a boss, give them something to be accountable for, and you can watch that change through a whole generation. When there is less concern for the future—for food on the table, for health care, and your child’s education—there is more time to invest in the business. Camano Island works with organizations like Agros that offer sustainable land ownership programs to their farmers. Camano Island pays an extra premium to the farmers who grow organic, grow in the shade of the rain forest to stop deforestation, and if you can be in the top one percent of the growers’ market, you make a hefty premium. Sustainability equals hope.
[pullquote]You’re not just buying coffee, you’re buying hope and you’re buying change.[/pullquote]
The Camano Island model is thoughtful and simple. It’s about transparency, about making the invisible visible. With every shipment of Camano Island Coffee, the story of a farmer or family whose lives have been changed is included. There’s no wondering where the donations are going because they are right in front of you. You are now connected to the product. You’re not just buying coffee, you’re buying hope and you’re buying change.
Not only did the company prosper, but Jeff was inspired to make some changes in his own life, turned his health around, and is strong and healthy today. So what started in a barn almost 20 years ago is now a very successful social enterprise. Some 24,000 farmers’ lives have been changed with this program. Literally an entire generation has been transformed. The barn is now a full campus with management, manufacturing, and a company store.
“It is always a challenge as we stay focused on the true mission and not just growing as a business,” says Jeff. “The start-up and today is very much the same—just much larger! Many of the early employees are still with us.” Jeff teaches social enterprise at universities, businesses, and groups all around the globe. “It is strange to think that we were one of the early pioneers in this work.”
“Camano Island Coffee is the coffee that helps you sleep at night. When you know our mission—you can see why.” – Jeff Ericson, founder of Camano Island Coffee Roasters
I got to try the Papua New Guinea coffee and, let me tell you, the package was absolutely exploding with the fragrance of freshly roasted beans. I hadn’t even broken the seal on the box and could smell it from a mile away. The bag itself is a lined paper with a very natural feel to it. All of their coffee is Certified Organic, Fairly Traded, Shade-Grown, and Specialty Grade Arabica Beans. What does this mean for you? Coffee that fights deforestation, is pesticide-free, and offers a fair market price to the farmers. It’s 360 degrees of goodness. They even offer recyclable coffee pods, gift boxes, and The Coffee Lovers’ Club, so you’re never without fresh roasted beans.
The price is $19 per single pound, $38 for two pounds, unless you join the Coffee Lovers’ Club. Then you get a 25 percent discount and free shipping with up to four pounds of coffee. You can even get a pod subscription from $35-$56 per month. And for every subscription box, a percentage gets donated straight to Argos and right back to the farmers. All this with 20 different varieties of coffee to choose from. You can travel the world, cup by cup.
The Papua New Guinea is a medium roast. The flavor has a very subtle richness to it. Notes of chocolate and caramel peek through the smooth roasted flavor. It’s the perfect coffee to go with my peanut butter toast. Add a little cream and sugar and the pot’s empty before you even know what happened.
Watch the Full TedxTalk Here