Mi'kmaq couple start backyard beekeeping business
Tayla Simon and Jesse Francis started Amu'Jij Beekeeping with help of Joint Economic Development Initiative
A Mi'kmaq couple has started a beekeeping business in New Brunswick hoping to help save the declining pollinators.
Tayla Simon, a stay at home mother of two, and Jesse Francis, who works at Pizza Pro, started beekeeping this summer in their backyard in Douglastown on the north bank of Miramichi, N.B. Their beekeeping business doesn't expect to turn a profit in its first three years of operation but they say Amu'Jij Beekeeping is more about helping the planet.
Amu'jij is Mi'kmaw for little bee.
"What it means to me is that we have a healthy Earth, we have a healthy ecosystem and it's just plain fun," said Francis, who is from Esgenoopetitj First Nation.
He and Simon, who is from Elsipogtog First Nation, started the business with $4,000, raised from the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) and Francis's home community. JEDI is a non-profit organization aimed at fostering Indigenous economic development in New Brunswick.
They started with a few thousand bees and watched their hive grow to more than 30,000 bees.
"You get so excited because your hive is growing," said Simon.
They estimate by next year they'll have to split the colony into two and rear a new queen. But first they have to get through the upcoming winter.
"So far we're hopeful but still nervous because many beekeepers lost 90 to 100 per cent of their colonies [last winter]," said Simon.
"Although we're hopeful because the hive is strong."
Heavy bee losses last winter
Last winter was tough on bee populations across Canada, with many blaming a long, harsh winter.
New Brunswick's Department of Agriculture reported on average a 30 per cent loss of colony.
Brian Pond, secretary of the New Brunswick Beekeepers Association, said there are 300 registered beekeepers in the province. Pond said one way non-beekeeping homeowners can help bee survival is by encouraging the growth of wildflowers. That includes dandelions, a favourite food of bees.
"When people start destroying these flowers, they are destroying their food source," said Pond, who has spent 20 years in the honey bee industry.
The idea of Amu'jij Beekeeping took shape in a blueberry field. Francis took a course on blueberry farming and noticed a honey bee hive was kept near the field for pollination. He was suddenly stung by an interest in bees and wondered how he could work with them.
"I thought what a great business it would be to get into the pollination and the honey aspect of bees," said Francis.
Business course helped them get started
He then took a business course offered by JEDI. The course offered him mentorships with business owners and helped him develop business plans and strategies. After he finished the 20-week course, Francis and Simon took a three-day beekeeping course at the Charlo honey house in Charlo, about 77 km north of Bathurst.
Simon hopes their story inspires other Indigenous people to take business courses.
"For both Jesse and I, if it wasn't for JEDI and those types of programs, we would never be where we are today," she said.
"And we wouldn't be having this conversation about bees."
The young couple had to get clearance from city council and their neighbours to keep the bee hive in their backyard. That went smoothly and they said their neighbours were happy to have their gardens pollinated. They also remove unwanted hives and nests in the surrounding area as part of their business.
Simon said they still worry about swarming, which is when bees leave the hive en masse, sometimes to look for a new home, or avoid heat or congestion.
They almost lost their hive near the end of the summer but learned quickly and were able to corral them mid-swarm.
"In the beekeeping world, it's pretty impressive," said Simon.
They've since bottled eight jars of honey and hope to sell more as their business grows.