Africa holds a special place in Twila Erb’s heart. The Elmira woman went there in 2014, spending two years doing volunteer work and visiting 11 countries.
During that time, she not only fell in love with the places she visited and the people she met, she became aware of problems such as human trafficking. Deciding she wanted to do something about it, when she returned home to Canada she began to research the problem in greater depth, looking for ways she could help.
Another love, Burundian coffee, was the catalyst for a new venture that sees her selling the coffee in support of those who need assistance.
Thus was Wild Ginger Coffee born. The idea is simple: she sells Gatukuza coffee – both whole beans and offers a mobile coffee shop – and 20 per cent of her proceeds go back to organizations both here and internationally to help fight human trafficking.
“In around the same time that I would have been in Africa, I was starting to become aware of the problem of human trafficking everywhere, in all different parts of the world [and] I just wanted to do something about that. After a lot of years of thinking it through and trying to think what that (helping to fight human trafficking) would look like, the two of those things (a love of coffee and need to help) converged,” said Erb. “It’s not just a company to make money for the sake of making money, it’s a company that exists on purpose, for a purpose. One of the things that we really want to try to do – and we’ve kind of named it instead of Fairtrade, we’ve named it transparenttrade – in that we believe that as a consumer of our product, you should know as much as we know about [where] our coffees coming from. I want that to be the thing that sets us apart in the long run. I’m not just concerned about getting good coffee to the person in front of me, but I’m concerned that the farmer that grows the coffee, that they are treated with dignity and respect – if I can’t treat them with dignity and respect, then what am I doing?”
She says her idea was to run a business that is not quite a non-profit, but also not a business that is for profit. Her end goal is to become something where she does not have to fundraise for a cause and if at some point down the road there are people who want to escape the human trafficking and sex industry, they will have a place to work.
Two organizations receive a portion of her profits. The first is Hope Ministries in Brazil, while the local recipient is The Manor Ministry in Kitchener. Both work directly with women who are in or want to leave the sex industry.
Currently Wild Ginger Coffee does not have a brick and mortar store. Instead, all coffee beans are imported and roasted as they are ordered by a local partner. Orders can be placed for one of three sized bags on their website and they can be delivered – free within 40 kilometres – or picked up. Erb’s mobile shop also gives her the opportunity to get out into the community by serving up her coffee at events – she’ll be making lattes at The86 Restaurant in Wallenstein July 25 (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.), for instance.
Eventually she envisions opening up a store if it seems like the right move, but that first foray is unlikely to be in this country.
She says she would like to fund the opening of a coffee shop in Brazil, where the girls would be taught to roast coffee beans and then actually start their own grocery and coffee shop.
Given how new the venture is, Erb doesn’t yet know what the future holds. She currently makes small batches of her own syrups for coffees, and sees a potential for expanding her product line to sell those alongside her coffee beans. Visit the website, for more information.