April 16th, 2024

Focus now on recovery for local beekeeping family

By KENDALL KING on August 6, 2022.

A beekeeper of 30-plus years, Sheldon Hill oversees his hives in Porcupine Plains, Saskatchewan.--PHOTO COURTESY Sweet Pure Honey

kking@medicinehatnews.com

After two years of pandemic instability and a spring season described as one of the worst on record, a local beekeeping family remains focused on recovery for their hives and honey business.

Sweet Pure Honey founders and co-owners Sheldon Hill and Stella Sehn feel as if they’ve met adversity at every turn in recent years.

The couple has faced supply-chain disruptions of essential bee shipments, increased production and transportation costs with unpredictable consumer demand, a drought year affecting pollen-producing plants and this spring’s abnormally long-lasting cold temperatures, which caused honey bee deaths and delayed hive development.

“It is so demoralizing,” Hill told the News. “You put in a lot of work – whether it’s a good year or a bad year – but when it’s a bad year you’re usually working harder because you’re trying to bring things back up to strength.”

A beekeeper of more than 30 years, Hill oversees Sweet Pure Honey’s agricultural production, while Sehn manages retail distribution of the company’s signature raw white honey, as well as an array of beeswax products such as candles, lip balm, wax cling-wrap and soap.

Following a difficult 2021, Hill was concerned when temperatures remained low earlier this spring. Despite his decision to temporarily move to the couple’s Saskatchewan bee farm, the abnormal cold spell resulted in the farm losing roughly half its hives – an estimated 350 of their 700.

“The numbers we’re talking about are monstrously large,” Hill said. “Not only am I losing income (since) early in the spring, but now I’m actually outputting money to build up to where it was last fall.”

Hill and Sehn admit they’ve found it challenging to remain hopeful and motivated in the face of adversity, especially as many other prairie beekeepers have chosen to leave the industry.

Nevertheless, the couple is choosing to remain committed to the farm and the business they built from it, shifting focus to recovery strategies.

As well as sharing information about their operation via an online blog, they also accepted an invitation to be featured on the debut episode of Canadian web-series Food Power TV. During the episode, the pair not only share information about their production process, but also their personal experiences as members of the beekeeping industry.

“I think about this connection to people and their food,” Hill said on why they chose to take part in the episode. “We’re all connected to food, and knowing the people who make your food and where your food comes from, it’s important.

“(Sharing our story) was the perfect thing to do so we could, hopefully, connect with more people in different places … Sometimes you don’t get that connection when you’re at the farm level, so it was very positive for us.”

Hill hopes he and Sehn can continue connecting with people over the coming months while the business continues to recover.

“At one point we were wondering, ‘Why are we doing this anymore? Why have we gone through all this work and all this time?'” Hill admitted. “So we were really questioning (if) we should maybe just quit because we were getting tired. But then we realized, there are people out there who appreciate what we do.”

Hill and Sehn say they are grateful to all those who have shown support throughout the past few years and invite community members to get in touch with them via Sweet Pure Honey’s website or Facebook page, if interested in learning more about their operation or products.

Products can be found online or in store at Medicine Hat’s Homestead Market.

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