How a Quebec couple bought an apiary and ended up with more than a dozen Highland cattle
New farmers thrilled by life in the Eastern Townships, grateful for community's help
When Nancy Lanteigne and Syed Mohamed moved to the Eastern Townships from Montreal two years ago, they were hoping for a small farm on which to keep bees and sell their products.
What they didn't expect was to end up with a small herd of Highland cattle.
"When we did the purchase with the seller, it was only at the last minute, when we were almost signing the contract, that he said 'Oh I forgot to tell you! the animals are included with the farm'," Mohamed said.
He and Lanteigne assumed the seller was referring to the chickens they'd seen on the property.
"He goes 'no, no, those Highlands, the cows, they are yours,'" Mohamed recounted, likening it to a seller casually mentioning that a washer and dryer were being thrown in during the purchase of a house.
Now, the couple's 200-hectare farm includes dozens of beehives, more than a dozen Highland cows and steers, fields for hay production and a boutique. Patrons can buy honey, propolis (a compound produced by bees thought to fight infections), and fresh and dried pollen.
While the main business at the WB Gold Farm is still the apiary, Mohamed says the bees, cattle, and fields all work together thanks to rotational grazing and hay production.
"Beekeeping is still our core farming business, but these two other elements are really integrating well with the land and what we're doing," he said.
For Lanteigne, who originally wanted to have a bison farm when the couple moved to the Townships, the Highland cattle were a very pleasant surprise, but also a challenge — one that she met with some local help.
"People in West Bolton are amazing," Lanteigne said, recalling how neighbouring cattle producers taught her the ropes and even stepped in to care for her heifers while she learned how to look after the cows and steers.
"They're all my babies, I pet them, I give them apples, I brush them," she said.
And against her husband's advice, Lanteigne also gives them all names.
Trading in city lights for buzzing bees
Lanteigne and Mohamed met eight years ago in Montreal, when they were both already in their 40s.
"I was a city girl," Lanteigne said. "I wore high heels all the time."
But the two were passionate about urban agriculture and had been weekenders in West Bolton, about 100 km east of the city, for a while.
"I started to realize it's really different the way you feel when you're here: you're more calm, you're not stressed," Lanteigne said. "So we said definitely we would move one day to West Bolton but when [our daughter] Leilah arrived, it was time."
When Mohamed convinced his partner that raising bison was too big a project for first-time farmers, they compromised on ramping up their existing apiary business.
They also compromised when he told her another dog would be too much to take on, so she says she treats her prized cattle like domesticated pooches.
Lanteigne and Mohamed also expanded, from about 50 hectares to the current 200-hectare setup, on land that already had much of the necessary farming infrastructure in place.
The couple is trying to carry out as much of the operations as possible while respecting nature, avoiding pesticides, and rotating pastures.
They've also planted thousands of trees and shrubs so their bees don't compete with other pollinators, such as butterflies and other species of bees.
"It's a lot of research, and a lot of trial and error, you think you've found a good way and something happens," Lanteigne said. "But now it's been two years and we're starting to have small wins."
Mohamed said he appreciates the technical depth of farming, and has tried to learn as much as he can throughout the process.
"Less sleep, grey hair, lots of work," he said. "Initially it seemed, not like an easy project, but like an interesting project, but we definitely underestimated the amount of work required."
"We have a lot of respect for farmers who have been doing this for many years," he said.