Most islanders don’t live on Salt Spring out of familial habit or because of economic practicality, but rather because they were captivated by the island’s beauty and character during a visit. Most ‘locals,’ as we proudly and occasionally arrogantly refer to ourselves, made a conscious yet impractical choice to call this island home.
You need more then an average dose of creativity and natural talent to financially sustain yourself ‘on island’. Many people can’t do it and are back in the city within a year. The ones that stay usually find a way to make a unique contribution to the community as well as a living.
Heather Campbell, affectionately referred to by ‘the locals’ as ‘the bread lady,’ is exactly that kind of resident. Originally from the Ottawa Valley, she migrated west with her husband Philip so he could attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. They moved to the island in 1992 to escape the city. They planned to stay for one year.
Today she is a quintessential islander, the kind of local you can’t imagine living anywhere else. Her house and attached artisan bakery, with it’s chic hippie, wood stove smelling, west coast splendor has likely convinced more then one overly time-managed urbanite to quit their job and move to Salt Spring. Heather’s bread is dense, fragrant flavorful and crusty. It isn’t even in the same food category as the fluffy bagged variety typically found on grocery shelves.
Heather founded the Salt Spring Bread Company because she wanted to live here and needed to an income. She started out by making less then a dozen loaves of bread, baked in flowerpots, to sell at a farm down the road from her house. The demand grew and she very quickly doubled her output. She was soon forced to abandon the flowerpots to increase efficiency and production.
Heather was one of the first Saturday Market vendors. Years ago, whatever she didn’t sell in the market she would flog afterward in the Fulford ferry line up.
Her studio bakery is located beside her house on a cliff overlooking the ocean channel between Salt Spring and Pender Islands. It’s surrounded by her beautiful garden and dominated by a massive wood fired oven.
Heather and Philip purchased the oven blueprints from now deceased wood oven guru Alan Scott. Alan was an activist who promoted wood fired ovens as route to rediscovering long lost methods of bread baking and because they are a sustainable and non polluting. Heather and Philip traveled to California to meet Alan and then hired a local mason named Richard Dakin to build the oven.
She says, “It was a difficult project. Our oven has a bigger capacity then any other oven Alan built. Over time we figured out our own way of doing things. It was worth the effort. Wood fired ovens create a different product because they generate a different kind of heat, the oven surface is hot not just the air in the cavity.”
Heather purchases off-cut wood from two neighboring farmers who operate sawmills. She loads and lights the oven at 10:00pm and then lets it slowly burn through then night. First thing in the morning she rakes out the coals and ash and then mops the oven floor. She prepares the dough while the oven temperature cools from approximately 10,000 to 600 degrees. She starts baking foccacia and then moves on to the heavier breads and finishes with the fruitier ones. On an average day she bakes approximately 700 loaves of about 18 different varieties of bread.
She uses local seasonal ingredients like fresh tomatoes, basil and roasted peppers to add flavor. One of her favorites is locally grown Poblano peppers she purchases from Michael Abelman at Foxglove Farm. She rolls peppers in the bread with Parmesan cheese until it almost resembles a sandwich.
Heather’s whimsical lifestyle choice exceeded her expectations. She says, “What I like most is the people that come to my home to buy bread. They keep telling me how great this Island is, which endlessly reminds me how lucky I am to live here. Salt Spring is a caring place. Sometimes people are very critical but always when push comes to shove they will rally and support you. My neighbors are my first and best customers and it is because of this community that I am in business. Visitors are just a sweet icing on the cake.”
The Salt Spring Bread Company is open Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in June, July and August and just on Fridays in April, May and October. The rest of the time Heather may open by appointment. You can also buy Heather’s bread at the Saturday Market, Natureworks and at Salt Spring Vineyards.
The studio is open for Apple Festival. Heather will be there selling bread right out of the oven with BBQ local pork and apple pies.
You will find her studio at 251 Forest Ridge Road in the same part of the island as Salt Spring Cheese Company and many other iconic studios. For appointments phone 250-653-4809. She is also a participant in the Studio Tours.
Written by Jill Thomas.