Life

The Man Who Found His Coffee-Farming Future In The Strangest Of Places

Craigslist is used for many things by many people — typically selling old furniture or browsing job offers that are actually scams. But one night in 2010, Craigslist was used for good when a young man named Brandon von Damitz found an ad for a coffee farm in Puna, Hawaii. Acting rashly, he bought the property and, as with most life-changing decisions made on Craigslist, it soon looked like Brandon was destined for personal humiliation and financial ruin.

You see, running a farm, any farm, is difficult work, usually for little pay, usually for little appreciation, and usually (sadly) those farms still fail.

This is even more true when the farm is a coffee farm. Because before it is the latte in your pumpkin spice, or the stain on your shirt/teeth, coffee is the seed of the fruit of the coffee tree. And in the most delicate terms possible, the fruit of the coffee tree is a temperamental assh*le. The fruit can only grow in certain climates. And at certain temperatures. And when that fruit is grown in that perfect slice of temperature and climate, it can still easily be destroyed by pests or fungus or through one of the many other ways nature punishes farmers for being farmers.

The farm that Brandon bought had the necessary climate, temperature, and rainfall to grow coffee, and it was even located on an active volcano, with the seismic activity constantly churning up new and nutritious earth for the trees to root in. But even after checking all these boxes, running a coffee farm (and especially one in Hawaii) still proved to be an arduous task. See, Brandon didn’t just have to grow the temperamental fruit of that temperamental tree, he had to harvest and process the seed of that fruit and roast those seeds (beans) expertly enough to make a delicious cup of coffee. Only then could he start the real work: finding someone to buy those beans, competing against the many larger and more established coffee farms in Hawaii who had already crowded their way into an already crowded marketplace.

To accomplish even one of these challenges would be difficult, to accomplish them all was nearly impossible. Even for an experienced coffee grower, which Brandon was not. Because Brandon von Damitz isn’t just the type of guy who bought a coffee farm off Craigslist; he’s the type of guy who…

–Had never farmed coffee before.
–Was only an occasional coffee drinker.
–Only had a two-year internship worth of farming experience.
–Had never lived in Hawaii.
–Had only been to the state once. On vacation.


So, a young man made a questionable decision on the internet; nothing too unique there. A young man set himself up for financial ruin; again, nothing too special about that, either. But here’s the thing about Brandon: He wasn’t just a young man who impulse-bought a farm online (with all that implies); he was also a young man with determination (with all that implies, as well.)

See, buying a coffee farm with zero coffee farming experience, with only slightly more coffee drinking experience was dangerously stupid. And dangerous stupidity is a powerful force, the kind of thing that can topple governments and businesses and marriages and credit scores. There are few forces in this world more powerful than dangerous stupidity. But luckily for Brandon von Damitz, determination is one of them.

Brandon soon started chipping at his many impossible tasks:

–Explaining to his girlfriend Kelleigh Stewart that he wanted to buy a coffee farm off Craigslist, that the farm was in Hawaii, and that it would be swell if she came with him to farm it. And she did (enthusiastically).

–Buying that coffee farm, and moving their lives from rainy-Portland, Oregon to rainy-in-a-very-different-way Puna, Hawaii. And they did.

–Overcoming ignorance and fungus and the fickle will of nature to grow that fruit and harvest those seeds/beans. And he did.

–Learning how to perfectly roast those coffee beans. And Kelleigh did.

–Working so hard, for so many years, that the very terrible idea of buying a coffee farm online became a slightly less terrible idea, became an okay idea, became brilliant. And they did.

–Growing such amazing fruit and roasting such amazing beans that Big Island Roasters became recognized as one of the best coffees in Hawaii, even amongst larger farms, even amongst people who do not make life-altering decisions on a commerce hub for used Hondas and scalped Mighty Mighty Bosstones tickets. And they did that, as well.

In 2013, Brandon and Kelly’s coffees received 93 and 94s in Coffee Review — among the highest scores for coffee — and Big Island Roasters coffee began to pick up incredible steam. It’s now shipped worldwide.

By any measure, Brandon and Kelleigh have turned their tiny farm into a success, not because their farm should have been a success, but because they worked so hard that success was their only option, that nothing, not even a bad decision, not even a bad decision as big as “buying a farm on the internet,” could keep them from that success.

Because there is no force stronger than determination. Not fungus. Not ignorance. Not dangerous stupidity. Not even a late night spent browsing Craigslist.

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