Five Guys & a Hobby

What started as an interest and love of bees has led five guys that originally kept bees as a hobby to be elected as the newest members of the OBA Board of Directors.

A commercial falcon breeder since 1984 and consultant for captive breeding, Jim Wilson is a director of the Ontario Hawking Club that he helped establish in 1985. While he recognizes that making money is necessary in life, Jim emphasizes that enjoying life is more important. And keeping bees as a hobby is one of the things he enjoys most.

In 2009 when he decided to get his first hive, Jim went to the OBA website and randomly picked one of the commercial beekeepers he found listed there – Tibor Szabo. “Out of the blue, I knocked on his door and it’s one of the best things I ever did in life,” says Jim. “He was the most kind, humble, patient guy with an ocean of knowledge. One afternoon walking with him around his beehives, I was hooked for life. Now I think I should have done this 40 years ago.”

The Wilson’s make candles from their wax and Jim’s honey is shared more than sold. In addition to giving honey to family and friends, Jim has started handing it out to anyone buying his raptors. “I’m really in this for the fun of it,” he says. “Now people buy my falcons and say ‘where’s the honey?’ It’s a way of marketing.”

A graduate of the Agricultural Business program at the University of Guelph, Bernie Wiehle spent the early part of his career working overseas, spending a couple of years each in Papua, New Guinea and Indonesia. “In Papua, I was the agricultural advisor helping to set up fruit and vegetable marketing co-ops,” says Bernie. “In Indonesia, I was doing the practical training program at a senior high school that focused on agriculture.”

Bernie is Mayor of the Municipality of West Elgin and has been on Council for the past 11 years. Keeping bees began as a hobby when Bernie was a kid and he turned it into a business in early 2000. “I’m pretty busy with council activities,” says Bernie, “and so I stay pretty small scale.” Keeping about 100 hives, Bernie supplies a few local stores with honey and retails a bit off his farm.

Andre Flys studied photography at Humber College and will tell you that he started as a third generation hobbyist beekeeper; both his father and his grandfather also kept bees as a hobby. His grandfather, Charles Sauriol (author of “Honey is my Hobby”) kept bees at the forks of the Don Valley in Toronto and received the Order of Canada for a lifetime of conservation initiatives. Andre’s father, John, has been the Honey Superintendent for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair for almost 20 years, having learned beekeeping from his father-in-law. Andre was the first in his family to keep bees on a commercial scale.

“I’ve always been around bees,” says Andre. “I got my first colony in my early 20’s and helped my dad out before that. It was a hobby. I was in the printing business and it started scaling back – and the honey started growing.” Andre and his wife Kerrie now keep between 400 and 500 colonies and sell maple syrup and hive products out of their farm gate store, Pioneer Brand Honey. They also attend seven local markets where they sell their hive products and some select imported products such as New Zealand Manuka honey.

From the age of eight, Albert DeVries knew he wanted to farm. He attended the University of Guelph where he obtained his Diploma of Agriculture – and his love of bees. “The beekeeping course fit into my schedule and allowed me to have Friday afternoons off,” Albert explains. “It turned out I really liked it and the desire to keep bees stayed with me.” Though he spent 22 years as a carpenter, from the moment he had his first few hives he knew he wanted to be a commercial beekeeper. “That became my focus,” he says.

For almost a decade, Albert kept bees as a hobby – one that was gradually expanding to the point that he had to sell hives. Then with a change in his wife Sharon’s employment, Albert had the opportunity to quit carpentry and begin beekeeping full time. For the last couple of years, Albert has worked for Chris Hiemstra at Clovermead Apiaries and is now working out a partnership opportunity with Chris. “The one thing that Clovermead has done for me is to realize you can dream things and then you can do them,” says Albert. “Sometimes it is a bit of work but you shouldn’t be afraid of that – just go and do it.”

Albert has about 900 hives and hopes to double that number by the end of next year. He says he’s always found queen rearing to be fascinating, perhaps because it is challenging and so more rewarding when it works out. And if you can make money at it, they’ll consider doing it – whether it is selling honey and wax, collecting pollen or pollinating blueberries. “We want to have a good lifestyle,” says Albert. “So we spread our work out to have a lifestyle that allows us to be home with our family; that’s very important.”

An apprenticed carpenter, Guy Anderson spent 20 years as the Chief Building Official for Kincardine and never intended to get into beekeeping. It was something that just happened when, in his official capacity, he had to ask someone to move their hives. “I gave him a piece of land to put them on,” said Guy, “and then I caught a swarm one day and he said I could have that.”

While beekeeping began as a hobby in 1990, Guy went commercial 13 years ago and now keeps around 1300 hives. Two years ago, the Anderson’s experienced some challenges when, for the first time, they sold honey to China; they are now working on sending a second, test shipment of creamed honey. Working with his wife, Gail and youngest son, Josh – Guy’s three other sons are all directors in the company – the Anderson’s own Hive ‘N Hoe Country Store. In addition to sending some of their bees for pollination and selling a few queen cells and singles, they also sell beekeeping equipment and supplies, many of their own hive products and other local products such as pottery, jewelry, wood ware and leather work. They also have a market garden and about 300 fruit trees.

In addition to sharing a passion for beekeeping, each of these new directors comes to the OBA with a great respect for the established board members and a willingness to work hard on behalf of Ontario’s beekeepers. They are open minded, willing to learn and interested in the educational and research aspects of the OBA. Not only are they environmentalists, they are advocates for beekeeping and the role it plays in a healthy environment. If you take their potential contributions into consideration, these five men offer a wealth of government and industry contacts and the ability to establish strong working relationships; have knowledge of the agricultural sector and good facilitation and communication skills. They bring a new viewpoint and any number of ideas on how the OBA can work in the best interests of Ontario’s beekeepers.

Most important, they each share a concern for the future of beekeeping. They all recognize that beekeepers are facing issues that challenge their industry and their livelihoods – whether it is high winter mortality, managing pests and disease, or issues of pesticide poisoning – and they all want to do their part in working towards sustainable solutions.

“When you get involved in a board, you do it in part because it’s going to help you and your business,” says Andre Flys, “but mainly you do it because you want to be part of a community and strengthen it.”