Credit: Meta Rose Photography. Mickey McLeod
The CEO and co-founder of the Richmond-based roastery has been camping in his 1989 Volkswagen Westfalia for 15 years
Mickey McLeod cared about nature long before “sustainability” became a buzzword. As a child, McLeod camped with his family and Cub Scout troop, but a move from New Westminster to the rural island of Texada in 1966 turned that pastime into a lifelong hobby. “I just have to be outside, at the beach, in the woods, fishing in the creeks,” says the co-founder and CEO of Salt Spring Coffee. “It was a really exciting opportunity as a 10-year-old to have that available to me.”
If you’re wondering what his campsite was like back then, imagine a bivouac, a can of beans, and some trout cooked over a fire.
McLeod may be a car camper now, but he hasn’t lost that childhood spirit. “It’s not about rolling around in a big RV and flipping a switch and it all comes on,” he says. “There are much easier ways to do it, but I love this kind of challenge – I’m incredibly hands-on and can figure things out.”
For the coffee connoisseur, such ingenuity extends to his trusty vehicle, a 1989 Volkswagen Westfalia that he drove through British Columbia and beyond for 15 years. Along the way, McLeod gave the van a bigger engine and outfitted it for convenience; he now has two dens, a retractable roof, an awning for shade, solar panels and an outdoor shower. “I’ve done a tremendous job to make it a good all-terrain vehicle,” he says. “I wouldn’t say he can go anywhere, but he can go a lot of places with the work I’ve done.”
There’s also plenty of room for some frequent travel companions: his wife, Salt Spring co-founder Robbyn Scott, and their three grandchildren. “We call it glamping,” McLeod laughs. “We like to eat well – we don’t take freeze-dried food – and we have a comfortable place to sleep. If it’s raining, we can be in the van, so it’s kind of a rustic elegance campground. Their morning routine always includes fresh coffee made from scratch with a hand grinder.
The North Okanagan, Vancouver Island and Texada Island remain among McLeod’s favorite places to camp. He brought his grandson back to Texada last summer: “Getting the grandkids to experience that is the next level for me, having them be outside and see the beauty of camping. A bit rustic, in touch with nature, a bit rough.
One of McLeod’s longest trips was a ride with Scott from British Columbia to California, which saw the van break down halfway. “We had to rent a vehicle to do part of the journey,” he recalls. “It was a great trip; a few weeks driving through the Coast Mountains, through Washington, Oregon and California. It ended up being an adventure.
His most notable adventure, however, was on a moonlit spring night in Alaska. Hearing a “whoosh” from his window, McLeod looked up to see a spectacular herd of caribou passing by.
Looking back, Texada gave her more than a deep love of the outdoors. “There were a lot of people who didn’t want to go to Vietnam, hiding in corners of British Columbia or all over Canada,” McLeod says. “Our family had a general store in Gillies Bay, so I met a lot of counterculture people at a very young age.”
The early 1970s rekindled the appetite for what was then called “natural food,” a perspective that strongly influenced him and Scott. “It was about eating foods that weren’t manufactured,” McLeod recalls. “So when we started Salt Spring Coffee in 1996, we supported organic farming for those reasons. We’ve been doing it for 26 years now, and we’re championing life, food and coffee in a better, cleaner and healthier way. This has always been our goal.
Mickey McLeod and Robbyn Scott started Salt Spring Coffee in 1996 to promote sustainable and fair trade coffee. With 42 employees at last count, the Richmond-based roaster sells its products online and in stores across the country. The company celebrates its 26th anniversary this year with a range of limited edition coffees from regenerative organic farming, whose environmental impact is relatively low. “We both have this passion and concern for environmental and social issues,” McLeod says of himself and Scott. “We haven’t changed our values at all.”