The Bright Side of Business bimonthly column is presented by Star Motors.
Canada loves its honey, and it shows: the number of Canadian bee colonies has been steadily rising over the last decade. Locally, Wakefield-based Apiverte is helping the National Capital Region be a part of that trend with an innovative and sustainable hive design that's increasing pollination in the area around highways 5 and 105 between Chelsea and Low.
In a traditional farmer’s honey house, frames of honey are stacked one on top of the other, explains Sandra Bornn, who co-founded Apiverte with her husband, Michael Smith. The higher you go, the more honey you get. When it’s time to harvest, each full frame can weigh up to 80 pounds.
“There's a lot of backbreaking work in beekeeping,” she says.
But there is another way.
“Bees will live anywhere. It's only humans that have decided that we should put them in square boxes and stack them up,” Bornn says. “Why not make beekeeping in a fashion that won’t break the people doing the beekeeping?”
That’s exactly what Bornn and Smith did after coming across a vertical system in Slovenia.
“You basically open up a door, like a kitchen cupboard,” Bornn explains. “Everything is accessible. You're never lifting anything heavier than a single frame of honey, which is maybe two-and-a-half kilos when it's full.”
This inspired Bornn and Smith’s EZ Hive design. After creating their prototype, they partnered with Gatineau farmers and businesses to build honey houses (“EZ Houses”) – each with five to 10 EZ Hives inside. The businesses host the EZ Houses and sell the majority of the honey.
“We're in our second year and it's very, very successful,” Bornn says.
Grants help harvesting project take flight
Since launching in 2019, Apiverte has brought more than five million honey bees to the National Capital Region. In July 2020, the company received two grants totalling $35,000 to launch another project: the EZ Harvester, making remote honey harvesting accessible to small-scale producers. Instead of having to pay up to $10,000 for harvesting equipment, beekeepers can simply rent the EZ Harvester for a day.
“It's a fully self-contained 24-foot concession trailer that we had custom-designed to fit all of our honey-processing equipment,” says Bornn. “It's got windows so people can see how we get honey from the hive and into the bottle. Even little kids can come up and see what’s happening.”
Apiverte is researching how to use clean energy for the EZ Harvester’s honey-production equipment.
“We want to be able to operate off the grid,” Bornn says. “People generally have their hives in a farmer's field way off the beaten path – they’re likely not going to have an extension cord (for honey extraction). If we can go there and be able to be self-powered for a day, that's a real benefit, both for the environment and for our customers.”
For its feasibility study, Apiverte partnered with eco-solutions company Ahimsa. Bornn says the collaboration sparked the interest of the municipality of La Pêche, which awarded Apiverte $10,000 in grants through its Fonds Vert program. Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food awarded an additional $25,000.
“The first step is carbon-neutral honey harvesting – then we're going to work towards making the rest of our honey production carbon-neutral as well,” Bornn says.
Looking ahead, Apiverte has several more expansion plans in the works. They’re looking to sell shares of honey, roll out a line of skin-care products made from honey byproducts as well as host workshops focused on bees, pollinators and the environment.
All this comes on top of their other professional commitments – Bornn is a marketing and design consultant, and Smith is a technician at the City of Ottawa – but is helping the couple indulge in a longtime dream.
“Farming is something we’ve always wanted to do,” Bornn says. “I don't think either of us ever anticipated that we were going to farm five million tiny livestock.”
The Bright Side of Business is a new editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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