Brian Lacey doesn’t flinch when of hundreds of honeybees swarm around him, or at the thought of being stung in the face.
The founder of Blue Shoes Honey doesn’t even wear gloves when he opens up one of the roughly 150 honey bee colonies he keeps near Vars, Ont., about 20 minutes east of Ottawa.
“[Honeybees are] just a beautiful insect and the services they provide ecologically speaking are unparalleled, that’s pretty fascinating to me,” he said.
Blue Shoes Honey sells local honey at farmers’ markets around Ottawa, including the ByWard Market, Lansdowne Farmers’ Market and Westboro Farmers’ Market. Lacey also breeds queen bees and offers classes on beekeeping to beginners, something he is very familiar with.
Lacey said he has spent his entire career working with bees, from working at a bee lab at the University of Guelph, to working as an Ontario provincial bee inspector and now selling his own honey. Being introduced to beekeeping changed the course of his life, he said.
“When I first started beekeeping at the [University of Guelph] I loved it so much and thought this would be a lifestyle I would be really well suited to,” Lacey said. “I love being outside, I love the physical work but there are also some intellectual challenges.”
Lacey said he got his first bee colony when he was a bee inspector in 2015. At first he didn’t know if he could make a living off of it, but said it got to the point where he had to choose between working for the province or focusing on beekeeping.
“It’s a precarious living for sure, you don’t do it to make a million dollars, you do it because you like the lifestyle or you like honeybees, which is definitely the case with me.”
There has been a burgeoning interest among the general public about beekeeping, Lacey said, and more people are starting it as a hobby and keeping one or two colonies. He said the classes he offers cater to these new beekeepers by giving them an introduction. This growing interest has helped to revive the industry, he said.
“It used to be 10 years ago every beekeeper had grey hair and a lot of people were worried that the industry was dying,” he said. “But now there’s just been this explosion of interest in young people.”
He said this might be because people are seeing stories about declining bee populations and they want to help. Lacey said he will be curious to see if the trend continues.
Right now Blue Shoes only sells honey, but Lacey said he has been saving up bees' wax to start making candles. He said he also wants to start making mead in the next year, an alcoholic drink made from fermenting honey and water.
He said one of the best parts about beekeeping is the positive feeling he gets from the work and knowledge that it's doing good for the environment. Blue Shoes Honey donates 10 per cent of profits to pollinator research and bee conservation efforts.
“With this job the thing that I do with my time… my contribution to this planet, I feel is a very positive one,” Lacey said.
The support Blue Shoes Honey and other small producers get at markets is very important, he said, and everyone in the agricultural industry works “crazy hard.”
“It really does make a huge difference the support that we get at farmers’ markets, it doesn’t take a lot of customers to help build your business if you have a few loyal customers.”