Making a Living While Making a Difference

Most everyone I work with tells me that they want the work they do to matter. That’s one reason I desperately wanted out of my marketing job in the insurance industry. Sure, insurance is important, but I just couldn’t seem to feel passionate about pitching estate planning for the affluent.

What could be better than to turn your values into your vocation?
I recently discovered three businesses that provide a product or service that have their origins in the convictions of their creators.
I think you’ll be inspired by how, in their own way, each of these businesses are making a difference.

1. Mary Janes Farm

I learned about Mary Janes Farm from a client. How I missed this little gem is a miracle. From her utterly glorious organic farm outside of Moscow, Idaho, Mary Jane Butters and her enthusiastic crew operate several small environmentally conscious businesses.

In addition to producing and selling her own line of instant organic food (just add hot water and stir), Mary Janes Farm sells organic fruits, vegetables, and flowers at the local farmer’s market and offers customized visits, over-night stays, private cooking classes, dinner, weddings, birthday parties and school group tours on the farm.

But that’s not all. Mary Jane writes a syndicated column and publishes her own glossy magazine called Mary Janes Farm. House & Garden described the magazine as “…homey and smart and interesting… part Martha Stewart Living, part Oprah magazine, part Organic Style, part Nation, part Ladies Home Journal…”

I was left wanting to know more about Mary Jane and how she came to start these interesting enterprises. So I did some poking around and discovered that her story is even more fascinating than her business. All that led up to Mary Jane buying her farm site unseen is too long to tell here. But the fact that she was one of the first women wilderness rangers hired by the U.S. Forestry Service back in 1974, enrolled in carpentry school a year later, and formed one of the first community anti-nuclear organizations in the Northwest in response to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe gives you a hint of how Mary Jane arrived at where she is today.

For a real visual treat check out To read about Mary Jane herself, go to

2. Cooperative Games

I learned about Toronto-based Cooperative Games through their ad in Natural Life magazine. Just as their name sounds, this company designs and sells games designed to foster cooperation, not competition.

I was impressed both their wide range of games for children and adults and the philosophy behind them. As they explain it: “We play games because we want to do something together. How ironic then that in most games, we spend all our efforts trying to bankrupt someone, destroy their armies, or getting rid of one another! We soon learn how to pick on the other person’s weaknesses in order to win the game…unfortunately, the games people play can become self-fulfilling prophecies, contributing to the creation of a negative world rather than helping deal with it or improve it.”

3. Junkyard Sports

On the Cooperative Games site was a quote by game designer, consultant, and author Bernie DeKoven. I discovered that Bernie is also the creator of something called Junkyard Sports.

Junkyard Sports are a little tough to explain (but there are lots of fun pictures on the web site). Basically they’re sport-like games with names like Frying Pan Sock Baseball, Office Olympics, and Ice Golf.

The games are made out of found objects like balled up socks and office chairs on wheels and are based on Bernie’s philosophy that
1) fun is fundamental to happiness and 2) people can be taught how to have more fun.

Today, organizations and groups pay Bernie to spend a day showing them how to make their lives more fun. In addition to playing lots of games, participants learn how to lead games and change games, as well as the biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy based on his book “Well Played Game: A Playful Path to Wholeness.” You can learn more Junkyard Sports and Bernie’s upcoming train the trainer program in the Netherlands at

Okay, what about you… what do you feel strongly about? Is it the environment? Ending hunger? Empowering people to fulfill their potential or tap into their gifts? Respecting the wisdom of our elders? Bringing peace and beauty into the world? As these three entrepreneurs demonstrate, you don’t need to start a non-profit to make a difference. How can you transform your beliefs and values into a viable way to make a living while making a difference?

It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the work you do somehow contributes to a better world. But that’s not all. People like Mary Jane and Bernie, and the creators of Cooperative Games, remind us that Katherine Graham was right when she said, “”To love what you do and feel that it matters, how could anything else be more fun?”


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