Bee barf? Regional honey industry creates a buzz

honey farms
honey farms

There were glowing sunflowers edging the fields, two acres of well-identified wildflowers, a glassed-in working beehive with the queen marked with a white dot … but perhaps the most enticing component of the recent Bee Amazed event in Morewood, south of Ottawa, was The Thirst Responder.

It was a full bar setup featuring honey-infused cocktails such as the Bees Knees, along with a solitary draft tap. It was parked at the bottom of the lane at Smirlholm Farms, which hosted Bee Amazed, to greet surprised guests as they arrived by horse-drawn wagon.

The Thirst Responder’s Ottawa operators took a former Ford Econoline emergency vehicle and transformed it into a “booziful butterfly,” catering to outdoor events. Guests sat around the mobile bar as if enjoying a cocktail downtown.

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

The Thirst Responder

Glenn Smirle said the owners of the Responder gave him a very good deal to set up for the recent fundraiser, the first of its kind for the Winchester and District Hospital Foundation’s cancer care. 

Other suppliers were equally helpful, including Wyatt McWilliams, who brought a team of Clydesdales and a wagon. A well-known supporter of agri-tourism, neither McWilliams nor his drivers would accept payment for their services, Smirle emphasized.

Through revenues from admissions, online options and on-site donation boxes disguised as beehives, the event raised $2,000 from about 1,000 people who were definitely feeling the buzz.

A former dairy farmer who sold off his 40-head herd and got into much smaller livestock, Smirle is hoping to build his honey operation and annual open house into an agri-tourism destination. He formally called the inaugural event “Soak Up the Sunflowers and Bee Amazed.” When he expands and repeats next year, he’s decided to shorten the event to one weekend.


“Running it for eight days is too much pressure on resources,” Smirle explained. “A lot of expense goes into staffing and preparation and when I was busy getting ready and hosting, I had to set aside much of the regular farmwork.”

Smirle sold his quality cows and milk quota about six years ago after finally admitting that, no matter how hard he worked the dairy, he couldn’t clear the debt and do much more than cover expenses.

He continued cropping 315 acres of beans, corn, hay and wheat, did some relief milking and cow breeding, and even tried growing hops for area craft brewers as well as selling Christmas trees.

Then, Smirle recalled a course he took while at the University of Guelph 30 years ago about the honey business. He started small with his own hives, saw increasing interest and requests for tours, with all of it culminating in Bee Amazed.

With growing interest in the protection of honey bees and other pollinators, as well as in the origins of local food, Smirle thought the timing would be right to introduce an event showcasing those elements. It’s estimated that bees pollinate nearly three-quarters of the crops that supply 90 per cent of the world’s food, from alfalfa to strawberries.

Smirle may well be on to something. Not too far from Morewood, the first one-day Honey Fair was held at the Glengarry Pioneer Museum in Dunvegan earlier this month featuring producers, speakers, demonstrations and information on bees and other pollinators. With admission at $10, the same as for Bee Amazed, about 300 people attended the Honey Fair.

There were displays from seven area beekeepers, along with advice on how to preserve habitat for pollinating insects. Attendees also learned just how inventive honey producers can be in marketing products: Nickim Bee-Haven labels its jars “Bee Barf,” pointing out the insects spit out nectar together with a few enzymes… and that’s honey.

Visitors departing Bee Amazed could purchase different sizes of more subtly named Smirlholm Farms unpasteurized wildflower honey, processed from more than 50 hives.

Just a reminder that Bee Barf is already taken!

Never miss a story. Get OBJ’s daily update in your inbox every Monday to Friday. Click here to subscribe.

Get our email updates

Get up-to-date news about the companies, people and issues that impact businesses in Ottawa and beyond.

By signing up you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.