On the Farm: Kevin Lefsrud needed a creative pastime after retiring from the Canadian Football League because of multiple concussions
VIKING, Alta. — When Kevin Lefsrud began coping with his concussion, he realized he needed a creative outlet to improve his mental health.
He decided to distill honey, creating an array of uniquely flavoured alcohols through his company, Section 35.
“Concussions are a very nasty thing,” he said, speaking in a telephone interview from his farm near Viking, Alta.
“There are lots of avenues your brain goes, and usually they are not in a positive direction,” he said. “So, this was a way of letting my brain get creative again, and not having to focus or worry about farming or work.”
Lefsrud is the fourth generation farmer on his custom seed operation. He played in the CFL for the Montreal Alouettes and Edmonton Eskimos, and would return to the farm during the off-season.
Lefsrud, however, suffered multiple concussions while playing football. He said he received two concussions in the span of five weeks, essentially causing him to retire.
“It took about a year and a half to come out of that haze and start regaining memory again,” he said.
He said having a concussion is like being surrounded by fog.
“I had no real memory for a year. I can’t place a memory on a timeline,” he said. “When my youngest daughter was being born, I don’t remember it at all in that time frame. I see a picture and I feel like I’m looking at someone else.”
He credits his family for helping him get through it, recommending that others get support for their mental health if they need it.
For instance, he said his family would make sure he was getting enough sleep and water.
“When I think back to this past fall, doing 20 hour days drying grain and trying to get the harvest done, this harvest from hell, at one point I hadn’t slept in two days. My wife, Kyla, said ‘go to bed you, you have to sleep,’ ” he said.
“My support network really took over and knew I wasn’t right. I get very narrow-minded in those situations, and I realized you need external people to pull you out of that internal thought process.”
Lefsrud’s family has always supported him, even when it came to launching a distilling business.
He said he and Kyla knew he needed another creative outlet after retiring from football.
“Football gave me that dual existence, and so has this business,” he said.
Lefsrud said he chose to go with distilling honey because one of his neighbours wanted to produce it.
They struck a deal where they would put hives around his canola and they would pay him in pounds of honey.
“There is only so much that can be used for toast and tea,” he said. “So, we looked into distilling. We bought one still and we started producing amazing alcohol out of it.
“But I think we got too cocky because when we bought an additional still, it kicked our butt before we started making it properly.”
Eventually, Lefsrud figured out how to work the finicky still. Using honey, he has created an assortment of flavoured liquors.
He said honey liquor tastes unlike anything else. He said it has complex flavours and finishes off with a note of honey.
“Many people have told us it’s not too strong or weak,” he said. “But if you drink a whole bottle, it’ll kick your ass.”
Distilling honey can be tricky because it’s difficult to get a consistent product, he added. But like farming, he appreciates that every day is different.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” he said. “Every day is a challenge, but it’s the same reason why I like farming.”
He’s also made hand sanitizers during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it’s been helpful for people and businesses in the community.
He expects to continue making honey liquors and trying out new flavour combinations.
“I still want this to be fun,” he said. “I created this as a way to keep me occupied. It’s important to be happy with what you’re doing.”