Successful Huron Student Honey project looks ahead to second year
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
One of the biggest local success stories to come out of Huron County since the COVID-19 pandemic struck has been Central Huron’s Huron Student Honey initiative.
Spearheaded by Community Improvement Co-ordinator Angela Smith, the program has thoroughly engaged the community in a hobby that has sunk its hooks into Smith and many others in recent years.
It all began over two years ago when Smith, Central Huron Mayor Dave Jewitt and Sandy Garnett from the Clinton and Central Huron Business Improvement Area (BIA) attended a conference in Ottawa. The Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) held its annual conference and part of it was a tour of a community production facility that made jam.
The undertaking was huge, as it was in the Ottawa area, which had a production facility and paid employees. However, the community involvement in the project from start to finish got Smith thinking about adapting a similar idea to be applied in Central Huron.
That led to what would eventually become known as Huron Student Honey, though it has undergone many changes of course since Smith first rolled it out.
She began speaking with some of the organizations she had dealt with over the years, like Youth Unlimited in London and others, but it was a trip to Bayfield Berry Farm as the business was beginning work on its new spirits that provided Smith with the inspiration that was needed.
In speaking with the Bayfield Berry Farm’s owners, Smith began discussing the process of renting bees and bringing them to the farm to pollinate the crops there. Smith felt that was a way to bring the initiative she’d seen in Ottawa to Huron County on a much smaller scale.
Smith then began working to get bees and hives for the project, enlisting the help of local high school students and several locals who had been beekeeping for decades. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, everything was put on hold and the project would permanently change.
The leaders of the project were both older and stepped back in order to stay safe. In addition, the schools closed for a number of weeks, meaning the project couldn’t be run as part of the curriculum.
Smith had grand plans for the student involvement, bringing in local youth from many different programs, including woodshop students to build the hives, culinary students to work with the honey and even marketing, graphic design and art students to jar the honey, design a label and market it for sale.
The original plan, Smith says, was to bring local elementary school students on board to then sell the honey as a fundraiser for their school, like they have for years with local meat, magazines and other products. Not only would they make for an excellent sales force, she said, but it could get them interested in taking part in the Huron Student Honey project once they reached secondary school.
All the money made from sales, Smith said, would be funnelled back into the program to aid in continued seasons of production and needed equipment.
The pandemic, however, changed things rather drastically and, though Smith had ordered the bees and the equipment, she needed to head back to the drawing board.
Due to the closure of the schools, even where the bees were due to be housed had to change. They were going to be housed on the grounds at Central Huron Secondary School, but they were moved to Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn’s home farm for the season in 2020.
She eventually connected with a number of college students after the local schools were closed. The idea was to help the students earn credit towards their tuition through a federal government program. That, however, would be a casualty of the federal government’s scandal with the WE Charity and it was eventually cancelled.
Smith had reached out to a number of college and university students who were planning on returning to Huron County to work in summer jobs, but had lost their employment opportunities due to the pandemic. When the program was cancelled, however, many of the students stayed on and continued working.
Once the bees arrived and work began in earnest, Smith said it was a really organic process, as she was learning alongside the young people. Local experts would help when they could and the original leaders were also just a phone call away for Smith at all times and soon enough the ball was rolling.
The group would eventually harvest the honey and the work began to have it jarred and sold. That’s where Smith says she’s grateful for the work of the Clinton and Central Huron BIA, which stepped up to sell the honey at many stores in Clinton and beyond.
Over the course of the process, Smith said she was bit by the beekeeping bug and now she has her own hives at home. She could also see it happening with members of her team, who were conducting their own research and coming in every day with their own ideas, methods and best practices over the course of the project.
Smith said she found it intimidating and was admittedly in a bit of a panic as the program took all of these twists and turns, but eventually, she said, it ended up in an even better place. While her initial thought had been for it to be a student project, it eventually expanded to include the entire community and people of all ages who wanted to be involved. That, she said, is what sticks out in her mind when she thinks about the project over the course of the past year.
After the success of the first year of the project, which sold out of honey, Smith said she has had over 30 people of all ages reach out to her wanting to be involved. The program is just about to begin again and the bees have been moved from Ginn’s farm to land in the east end of Clinton near St. Anne’s Catholic Secondary School.
Details of the Huron Student Honey project, as well as many of Smith’s other community endeavours, can be found on her Instagram page by searching “Central Huron Inspired”.