Don’t tell anyone, but the Peace River region of BC is hiding a sweet secret. The endless fields of wildflowers, long summer days and cool northern climate all add up to a paradise for bees. This has led to a growing buzz around the area’s honey producing qualities, making it the perfect home to a growing number of hobbyist and professional beekeepers.
Originally starting with one hive as a hobby, Charlene Gifford and her husband Robert co-founded Gifford’s Honey Farm in 2008. Along the way, they’ve discovering a passion for beekeeping on this fertile slice of prairie land in the North East of BC.
When we heard about the farm, we made a bee-line to chat to Charlene.
How did you get into Honey Farming?
It all started with one of our children having an interest in bees. We started with one hive and we really enjoyed the work involved so it all grew from there. We started attending Bee Days at the Beaverlodge Research Farm in Alberta. Once a year they’d hold this event with speakers and demonstrations and we just educated ourselves and read everything we could. Fast forward ten years and now we run a honey farm!
In a given year, we produce around 6,000 pounds of honey. We’re a small operation so that’s a lot for a farm of our size. We extract it ourselves in our honey house, we package it and we’ve been selling at the local farmer’s markets for over five years. With COVID-19 putting a stop to the market, we decided to open up a farm stand at the end of our driveway and we’ve now moved to selling our products online through our store.
How much work is involved in running a honey farm?
Truthfully, it’s very hard and heavy work. The Honey Supers (boxes that hold frames where the bees store their honey) weigh a lot and it’s tough work to move them. While it is hard, it’s enjoyable and rewarding at the same time. It’s really nice when we’re doing our checks and watching the bees fill the frames with honey. Then you get to extract it and pack it. In the end, you’re left with this golden liquid that you watched being produced from start to finish. Having the ability to share it with our customers, it’s pretty rewarding!
Does your location in the Peace Region cause any challenges with the bees?
Actually, the BC Peace Region is known worldwide in the beekeeping industry as one of the best producing areas for honey. It’s more prairie land here than other parts of BC, our days are longer and we have a lot for the bees to feed on with our abundance of wildflowers.
The hardest thing we have to deal with up here is winter. The winters can be brutal here, it recently got as low as -35. We navigate this by creating what we call ‘Bee Barns.’ My husband created these special structures where we winter our hive. They’re well insulated inside this temperature-controlled environment and we keep a close eye on them.
Bees essentially hibernate over winter. They gather together into a huddle in the centre of the hive and they all vibrate to try and keep each other warm at a certain temperature.
What type of products do you produce on the farm?
We do honey of course, but we also do lots of other products! For starters, our honeycomb is a fantastic treat. It goes straight from frame to container for sale, with no additives and no other contact. I just measure it, cut it, and it plops right into the container.
Elsewhere, we offer beeswax candles, soaps, lip balm, those popular wax wraps people use for storing food. In the summertime, we have our market garden here on the farm where we can sell direct to customers.
Where else can people buy your products?
We’re excited to share our recently redesigned website. We sell our products online here all year round. Our farm stand opens the first Saturday in May and runs for the summer. We ship province-wide.
You know, we’ve seen the impacts of COVID here on the farm like everywhere else in BC. Our sales took a hit last year with the Farmer’s Market closing but we also saw it as an opportunity to grow. We opened the farm stand where people can buy our products contact free – there’s just a cash box where people drop off their money. We also invested in improving our website so we weren’t reliant on the Farmer’s Market taking place. All the feedback so far has been really positive!
Why do you think it’s so important for people to support small businesses like yours?
My husband and I talk about this topic all the time. Buying local is one of the most environmentally friendly actions a person can take. It makes a real impact. If you buy fresh vegetables locally it cuts down on the distance they have to travel. They’re coming from 20 miles away, rather than 2,000 miles away.
People don’t realize how much power they have with their dollars and how they choose to spend them. If you make a conscious decision to use those dollars supporting local it makes a real impact in your community.
In that spirit, what are some of your favourite local small businesses?
The first we’d love to show support to is Rubicon Overhead Doors. They’re based in the Okanagan and they carry out all our overhead door repairs. That’s a really important one for us as we need overhead doors to ensure we can move our hives around.
Dunvegan Gardens is another one here in Fort St. John, they’re really great for outdoor items and we shop with them quite a bit. Just down the road from us is TH German Taste and their whole thing is German cuisine that’s really tasty.
We respectfully acknowledge our place of work is within the ancestral, traditional and unceded territories of the Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and that we serve the Peoples of the many Nations throughout British Columbia.