Candy Schibli: Wild Goose Is Heading Home

Candy Schibli: Wild Goose Is Heading Home

photo / Candy Schibli

Diving right in, I think it’s important for people to understand that I approach my life from a largely buddhist perspective (from a western study, I’ve never actually studied in the east or spent time in buddhist communities there).

So, I consider myself a spiritual person, from a western culture and also from a woman of color in the western culture – American specifically.” This was Candy Schibli’s answer to the question “Facing some readers who don’t know you very well, what perspective do you want them to start knowing you from?”

Candy is Head Roaster and Founder of Southeastern Roastery, a small batch specialty coffee roasting company, started in December 2016 in Isle of Wight County, VA. Southeastern Roastery is women-owned and women of color-owned company focusing on women throughout the value chain in a largely male dominated field.

Southeastern Roastery carries Candi’s approach to the lifestyle she aspires to – more lifestyle freedom, and creative freedom. This is the answer that “took me 45 years, almost a lifetime, to figure out what kind of life I wanted to live”.

She also learned how to get along with the world,“I think I take less personally now, realizing that most of the time people’s actions and words are coming from their own experiences and situations.”

It reminds me of a poem named Wild Geese by Mary Oliver:

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

The Way the World Interacts With Her

Candy lives in Baltimore, Maryland. “For those that aren’t able to picture physically where it is,” Candy said, “we are on the Mid-Atlantic coast of the US. My neighborhood in particular, Locust Point, is on a peninsula surrounded by the Baltimore Harbor which is a part of the Chesapeake Bay. I say this because there is a culture around this location of enjoying spice like Old Bay or Chesapeake Bay seasoning, local seafood, and water activities. I enjoy all of those things.”

photo / Candy Schibli

Her unforgettable memories of her childhood also relate to these experiences. She spent a lot of time playing outside as a kid – crabbing with her family, going to her first baseball game – Baltimore Orioles, and just enjoying being outside in general.

Even as she grows older, nature remains her trusted companion. When she’s not occupied with coffee-related pursuits, she finds solace in the great outdoors, engaging in activities such as hiking, swimming at the beach or pool, kayaking, and expressing herself through the art of drawing or writing.

Meditation is another trusted companion Candy found when she grew up. She started going to a People of Color Sangha when she lived in Washington DC ten to twelve years ago now. She also sometimes went to the Vietnamese buddhist center to sit or participate in an event, though she doesn’t speak the language. “Both communities were so welcoming and I keep in touch with some folks from my community there.” Candy said, “Meditation is grounding for me, studying the dharma – the preciples, the precepts, learning from the stories of the Buddha help guide me personally and professionally. All of that makes life a meditation – a practice. I’m always checking myself. One of her meditations is to consciously create more time for herself. “I am doing that, slower than I would like.”

Conversations with Herself

Candy is a graduate of Florida A&M University, American University, and Universidad para La Paz. She holds degrees in chemical engineering, international affairs, and natural resources and sustainable development.

These learning experiences were also a process of developing her self-awareness. Regarding the chemical engineering major, she said, “I frankly liked math and chemistry and it seemed like a logical, safe employment option after school. I also went in thinking after school I would work in hydrology or some time of environ- mental management.” But ended up choosing something that turned out to be quite the opposite of what she expected – chemical control engineer. However, once she actually started working she realized keeping systems running was not as much fun for her as the design/ experimentation portion.

After working for a few years, she left the industry and decided to go back to school to “get back on track” with her initial plans. “After working in an industrial environment I could see first hand the health, community engagement, and environmental challenges. They seemed ongoing. So, I thought studies in Inter- national Affairs, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development would be a way to learn more about how these challenges can be approached, both internationally and nationally because we are in a global environ- mental system.” Candy said.

Throughout her academic learning and work experiences, she actively participated in various international coffee projects, including initiatives aimed at assisting small-scale coffee farmers. In addition, she obtained her master’s degree focusing on the sustainable agricultural production of coffee, specifically from a green coffee perspective. All of this drew her into the idea of coffee roasting. She liked the idea of working with communities from different countries to process an international product and the creative process of roasting, playing with variables that change aspects of the coffee experience.

She began to study roasting at the Academy of Coffee Excellence in 2016. Then she bought a one-kilogram roaster from a company in Minneapolis and set it up in her great-grandmother’s house. At that time, she was living in a fourth floor walk up apartment with no elevator. She didn’t have any other free available space to work from. Within a week of finishing her studies at the Academy of Coffee Excellence, she landed her first account, roasting coffee for a whiskey and coffee pop-up called Dual- ity on U Street NW in Washington, D.C. She had finally found her dream career, tailor-made for her aspirations and passions.

Her Place in the Family of Things

In late 2019, Candy was prepared to take the leap and establish her own storefront, complete with space for the roaster. Her prior professional background endowed her with a profound understanding of systems thinking in project management.

She now owns a company named Southeastern Roastery, running a cafe, a roasting lab, and a retail operation for whole beans and teas. The company partners with mostly female producers, ranging from bakers who make snacks for her cafe to a fashion designer who repurposes burlap sacks that hold bulk coffee beans to make unisex handbags.

photo / Candy Schibli

Women have always been a part of the coffee industry. Just as in many business sectors, this has usually not been in leadership positions or at the executive level. She believes in equitable access to systems and resources. “Unfortunately, the United States was not built from that political context (is any society?) and we are constantly struggling to make up for that. As an active female participant in moving toward a society that operates more in that way, I have chosen to work through a gender lens.”

“I really went in without any expectations. I focus on making good coffee first and foremost,” she says. “That I can do it representing Black and Brown women is a plus, but I’m not responsible for this aspect of myself. So, I focus first on being the best of myself… or at least making the effort to.”

Despite being an individual whose biological sex is female, she told me she struggles with “femininity”. There are times she doesn’t feel so “feminine” because of her natural body shape and the fact that she has had issues with reproductive organs starting from childhood. She can’t have children. So, she feels she has an excess of creative energy. “My nature is quite feminine I feel – the desire to create and nurture.” Candy said.

She is an introvert and doesn’t always desire to or have the easiest time “peopling,” for lack of a better term. It’s a struggle in how she feel versus how she is sometimes perceived or how she is awkwardly present in society.

The way she finds to be a community member seems to be like a breakthrough in her life which is focused on talking to Southeastern Roastery’s customers and seeing how Southeastern Roastery can fit in. “This goes back a bit to the practice of the fourth aspect of the dharma wheel in Buddhism, the Right Action, so trying to see what is suitable and helpful. As I love meditation and outdoor activities, we have contributed to Beyond Mindfulness Community and have worked with the local Canton Kayak Club which is a non-environmental, environmental-friendly association. I personally enjoyed creative activities so I’ve linked up with Creative Nomads, a Baltimore Arts organization, as a sponsor and also Baltimore Clayworks in selling handmade mugs in our shop that support their youth program- ming. I’m also in the local community garden and contribute to pro-farmer initiatives because I believe in the support of local food systems and food system economic sustainability.” In Candi’s active involvement in the community, she has also found many participants who are moving the community forward in their own ways. Recently she is impressed by Lovettsville Cooperative Market. “They have been working hard to support local farmers and producers as an independent grocery that fills a gap in smaller towns that have population but not enough to draw a local chain. It’s their first time and I’m excited to see this group thrive.”

She cares about the people in her community. For example, she was a bit adamant about not offer- ing coffee after 2pm. “It’s generally not beneficial in keeping a healthy sleep pattern. So, we aren’t open at night.” said Candy. Another example is, during COVID-19, Southeastern Roastery made the pivot to focus on white-label – It refers to when a coffee roaster, produces coffee for another company to sell under their own name. This year was the first year of having a female roasting apprentice program. They hosted an up and coming female roaster from Virginia to teach principles and techniques. “Our white label roasting largely focuses on supporting women owned businesses. Right now we are helping grow three women-owned coffee companies. We largely purchase our pastries from local women-owned bakeries such as Harmony Bakery and Maillard Pastries, both in Baltimore, Maryland. We also purchase green coffees from women-owned importers mainly for our Ethiopian and Brazilian coffees. We aim to really support women throughout the value chain of coffee.” said Candy.

In Candy’s opinion, the situation of small businesses as a specific aspect of commerce in neighborhoods not only creates a sense of local pride and charm, it also adds character, diversity, and encourages walking versus driving. Small businesses also help keep large portions of money in the local economy itself. We’re sure Southeastern Roastery did all that.

photo / Candy Schibli

Right now Southeastern Roastery’s staff include an operations manager. They also have two staff with us in packaging and distribution. “It couldn’t have been done without the help of a lot of people. Todd Arnette has always been a positive teacher, mentor in my career.

Without his support I wouldn’t be where I am. 1863 Ventures, Halcyon and my advisors, family, and friends that have and do make time to lend me space to learn and talk are critical for my professional and personal mental wellness. My coffee community is large, I think everyone I have been able to work with has contributed in some way to a significant portion of my growth and I’m grateful for that. We consider all of our customers our partners. Growing with a network is important for leveraging expertise.” Candy said.

Now, she feels like more women are being recognized for their work and more are entering into the importing, roasting, and business ownership spaces. “This is exciting!” she said.

Candy named the company in honor of the location where she first started roasting, which is southeastern Virginia. This specifically in reference to Smithfield, Virginia. “There are always pivots, changes in some form or fashion. We have since creation moved a couple of times, first to Washington DC and then to Baltimore. I have been pretty set on focusing on the manufacturing of coffee, though we have a small cafe in Baltimore, Maryland now.” said Candy. The poem mentioned in the beginning, ends like this:

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

It seems to be about Candy’s life, too. Religion is something she can grab onto to fight against Nihilism, but she’s sincere, she does not try to make the world perfect, but trying her best to make every bit of love she gives to the world perfect.