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 kid, McLeod camped with his family and his Cub Scout troop, but a move from New Westminster to rural Texada Island in 1966 turned the pastime into a lifelong hobby. “I just got to be outdoors, at the beach, in the woods, fishing in 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 at my disposal.”
If you’re wondering what his campsite looked like back then, picture a bivouac, a can of beans and trout cooked over a fire.
McLeod may be a car camper now, but he hasn’t lost that boyhood spirit. “It’s not rolling up in a big RV and flicking on a switch and everything powers on,” he says. “There are much easier ways to do it, but I like that kind of challenge—I’m incredibly practical and can figure things out.”
For the coffee connoisseur, such resourcefulness extends to his trusty vehicle, a 1989 Volkswagen Westfalia that he’s driven through B.C. and beyond for 15 years. Along the way, McLeod has decked out the van with a bigger engine and equipped it for convenience; it now has two dens, a pop-up top, an awning for shade, solar panels and an outdoor shower. “I did a tremendous amount of work on getting it to be a good off-road vehicle,” he says. “I wouldn’t say it can go anywhere , but it can go a lot of places with the work I’ve done.”
There’s also plenty of room for some frequent fellow travellers: his wife, Salt Spring co-founder Robbyn Scott, and their three grandchildren. “We call it glamping,” McLeod says with a laugh. “We like to eat well—we don’t take freeze-dried food—and we have a comfortable place to sleep. If it rains, we can be in the van, so it’s sort of rustic elegance camping.” Their morning routine always includes fresh coffee made from scratch with a hand grinder.
The North Okanagan, Vancouver Island and Texada Island remain some of McLeod’s favourite local spots to camp. He took his grandson back to Texada just last summer: “Getting the grandkids to experience that—that’s the next level for me, having them be outside and see the beauty of camping. A little rustic, connecting with nature, roughing it a bit.”
One of McLeod’s longest journeys was a drive with Scott from B.C. to California that saw the van break down halfway through. “We had to rent a vehicle to drive part of the way,” he remembers. “That was a beautiful trip; a couple of weeks driving through the coastal mountains, through Washington and Oregon and California. It ended up being an adventure.”
His most notable adventure, however, took place one moonlit spring night in Alaska. Hearing a “whoosh” at his window, McLeod looked out to see a spectacular herd of caribou pass by.
In hindsight, Texada gave him more than a deep love of the outdoors. “There were a lot of people not wanting to go to Vietnam, hiding in corners of B.C. or throughout Canada,” McLeod says. “Our family had a general store in Gillies Bay, so I got to meet a lot of counterculture people at a very early age.”
The early 1970s revived appetites for what was then called “natural food,” an outlook that heavily influenced him and Scott. “It was about eating food that was not manufactured,” McLeod recalls. “So when we started Salt Spring Coffee in ’96, we were supporting organic agriculture for those reasons. We’ve been doing this for 26 years now, and we’re advocates for doing life, food and coffee in a better, cleaner, healthier way. That’s been our focus forever.”
Mickey McLeod and Robbyn Scott launched Salt Spring Coffee in 1996 to promote sustainable and fair-trade coffee. With 42 employees at last count, the Richmond-based roastery sells its products online and at stores across the country. The company is celebrating its 26th anniversary this year with a line of limited-edition coffees grown using organic regenerative agriculture, which has a relatively low environmental impact. “Both of us certainly have that passion and concern for environmental and social issues,” McLeod says of himself and Scott. “We haven’t swayed in our values at all."