When you work on a bee farm you will get stung. Repeatedly
After a sweltering day spent over a stove at my job as a chef, I hopped on the train leaving a hot, humid Toronto and headed west toward the prairies. I was going back to Theodore, Saskatchewan (pop. 339) to the place where my parents raised my four siblings and me on a honey farm.
Beekeepers run in our family; my grandfather was the original beekeeper who then inspired my father and, today, my oldest brother operates the apiary with occasional help from my two other brothers who often arrive from farflung corners of the world to help with the busiest time of the year, summer. Our apiary consists of about six hundred hives with each hive consisting of about 80,000 bees during peak season, which makes us a relatively small farm.
I’ve come to learn that growing up on a honey farm is not the most traditional or uninteresting thing. After moving around Canada and travelling to different places, most people expressed keen surprise and interest if it got let out that I come from an apiary. Such questions as “Do you get stung?” (yes and its hurts just as bad each time – tip: bees do not like dark colours!) and “What do the bees do in the winter?” (hibernate, of course!), as well as exclamations like “That’s so cool!”
I have never really argued with the attention and curiosity that people naturally approach me with upon hearing of my origin. I also never really argued with the circumstances that left me out of the day-to-day operation. I was always able to keep my distance, instead faring as the family chef and creative artist.
I was excited to return back home and get back into the rural groove of things; picking up the mail at post office (a sought after chore between my siblings and I from childhood to this day), getting accustomed again to not hearing a sound besides the birds in the morning and the crickets at night and how the moon can light up the sky in the evening and the stars are visible.
Since moving away and starting my life in the city, I discovered my passion for food, and it made me wonder how I could grow up on a honey farm and know so little about how the honey is made. I am jealous of the knowledge my brothers have about beekeeping that seems to come so naturally. Every time I return home now I try to get involved somehow, whether it be repainting the 30 year old honey sign, helping unwrap the hibernating hives in spring time or selling honey to the locals from our family home. This year I was designated role of staff photographer, capturing the day out in the beeyard taking off honey and in the extracting room harvesting the sweet stuff.
I also gave myself a second role as exterior decorator of the hives. The bees are so busy in the summer working they have no time to decorate their hive or get out into the city to catch the latest exhibit at the art galleries, so I brought it to them by turning the hives into pieces of art. I painted various things from landscapes to warnings to their predators (bears and mites) and messages to the bees about nice patches of clover. I look forward to next summer when I will return to the honey farm to continue bringing art to the most rural of places and, of course, enjoying some of that sticky and sweet honey.