Honey producers proud, confident
GRANDORA, Sask. — Growth and family participation have been central elements in the Comerfords’ plan to build a successful beekeeping business.
When they started in 1997, Henry and Sara Comerford had two young children, 16 hives of bees and some modest equipment given to them by Sara’s friend.
Today, Sun River Honey near Grandora, Sask., has 750 hives and generates enough revenue to support not only Henry and Sara, but also their son, Aaron and his wife, Mandy.
Their daughter, Shannon, a national team fencer who is currently training to represent Canada in the 2016 Olympics, has also ex-pressed an interest in joining the family operation when her athletic career winds down.
For the Comerfords, success is not only measured in honey production, but in the strength of family ties, quality of life and satisfaction of pursuing an occupation that they love.
“If Shannon comes on and it’s me and her running the operation down the road, I can see us expanding to at least 2,000 hives,” says Aaron.
“We always had a plan to grow,” adds Henry, an ordained Anglican minister who still works with the Anglican Diocese of Saskatoon.
“Originally, Sara and I had a target of 500 hives … and we reached that goal. But by that time, Aaron was coming into the business and 500 wasn’t enough.
“His energy and drive started the next phase of expansion and that’s where we are today.”
In the 1990s, an acquaintance shared his knowledge of bees with Henry.
Later, Sara took a job with Tony Lalonde, an established beekeeper from Clavet, Sask. She applied her knowledge to her family’s modest operation.
“At the time Tony was running 1,000 hives, we were running 16,” says Sara.
“I saw everything that you could possibly see in a single year. It was a crash course in beekeeping.”
That education has proven invaluable.
Within three years, the Comerford operation has grown significantly, adding new hives and expanding their extraction capacity.
In 2000, they constructed a large, modern facility that today serves as the base of their operations.
Almost all of the family’s hives are located within a 20 kilometre radius of Henry and Sara’s home.
After it is pulled and extracted, honey is transferred into bulk containers and sold on the open market, usually to honey packers or food processing companies in Canada and the United States.
The Comerfords also sell some honey from the farmgate and internet and through local retailers that have agreed to carry their product.
The Canadian industry has changed significantly over the past decade and Henry said there is little room for missteps.
“Today, if you want to be a commercial honey producer, you have to have the drive and the interest to compete in a global market … and you have to stay on top of research and markets,” he says. “If you don’t, you’re going to lose your business.”
The Comerfords take pride in their ability to manage bees well.
That, combined with the lifestyle, is what’s keeping Sun River Honey growing.
“Definitely, the honey is wonderful and being able to sell it and make an income off of it is great, but for me, it’s all about the bees. That’s where my love and passion is,” says Sara.
“The quality of life is definitely important,” adds Aaron, who recently built a home just a few kilometres away from the extraction plant.
“It’s a good time to be in the industry. If you enjoy working with bees and can take an organized business approach to running the farm, you can definitely go places with it.”