April 7, 2021
It’s my 65th birthday this week – and before you ask – no, I am not retiring. However, birthdays do have a way of making us stop and take a look back. This is especially true this year as we will also be marking the 25th anniversary of Salt Spring Coffee in the months to come.
I am often asked why I started Salt Spring Coffee and why taking care of the environment has been such an important part of how we do business. For the answer to that, we have to go back in time 55 years.
When I was ten, my family moved from New Westminster to Texada Island to run the general store in Gillies Bay. The Vietnam War was raging at the time and quite a few draft dodgers had made their way up to the island. It being a small community, and my mother being an extremely warm and welcoming person, meant that we often had these men and their partners over for dinner. Many of them were hippies and had very progressive ideas. As a result, we had quite a number of interesting conversations around the dinner table and it was there that I was first exposed to alternative lifestyles and different ways of thinking about food systems and the environment.
As I grew up, these ideas were further reinforced by the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Being entrepreneurial in nature, I knew that I eventually wanted to create a business that embraced these values and made a positive impact on the world. I just didn’t know what that business would be.
In 1973, I met Robbyn, the love of my life and co-founder of Salt Spring Coffee. At the time, coffee culture hadn’t yet made its way to B.C., but on a trip to Robbyn’s native San Francisco, she took me to the fabled Caffe Trieste and introduced me to real coffee. I was hooked.
On a subsequent trip to visit Robbyn’s mom in Oregon, I stumbled upon a book in Starbucks by Kenneth Davids about how to roast coffee beans at home. On our way back to B.C. we paid a visit to renowned roasting machine inventor Michael Sivetz to pick up one of his modified popcorn poppers and some green beans so that we could begin roasting at home. After some initial trial and error, we realized that we were pretty good at it and started roasting coffee for family and friends.
After I got the coffee roasting bug and started looking into the green coffee supply chain, I realized that coffee roasting would be the type of business that would allow me to create a process that was sustainable from start to finish and have a positive impact on people and the environment. At the time, organic coffee was almost unheard of in B.C., so by sourcing coffee directly from organic producers, ensuring that they were properly compensated (before Fairtrade even existed in Canada) and giving local coffee drinkers an expertly roasted product, we could do something that benefitted everyone – and in 1996, Salt Spring Coffee was born.
Looking back on my career, I am proud of what I have been able to achieve and the positive impact that Salt Spring Coffee has been able to make as a company. I am also extremely grateful for the hundreds of people who have worked with us over the years and without whom none of this would be possible.
While there may be 65 candles on my cake this year, I can tell you that I still feel young at heart and am eager to do more. Our world is facing serious problems in the form of climate change, but I want Salt Spring Coffee to be part of the solution. That was true when I founded the company, it remains true today and it is my birthday commitment to you that it will continue to be true for years to come.
-Mickey McLeod, Co-Founder of Salt Spring Coffee