What began as a school project by two Grade 4 students has evolved into a small business and the pride of an entire community.
Each year Crestomere School holds an excellent learning exposition where groups of two or three students choose a subject of personal interest and delve into research.
Principal Penny Mueller taught a Grade 3-4 class and, after watching a television program on the concern over honeybees, held a discussion with her students, not related to the exposition.
When the time for the exposition arrived, Mueller asked if any students were interested in deeply researching the honeybee and Aspen McTaggart and Charlotte Cutts — Grade 4 at the time — jumped at the chance.
“They learned everything about the honey bee,” said Mueller, referring to the students’ research on honey production, hives and how humans are harming the bees’ environment.
Mueller says the more the two girls learned, the more curious they and Mueller became about the idea of keeping hives at school. “The more curious we became, the more passionate we got. Along the way we discovered all these people in our area who were just as passionate.”
Nixon Honey donated two full hives to the school and the girls worked with John Sodaburg, a honeybee expert from Lacombe. He taught Mueller, McTaggart and Cutts how to manage the hives, care for the bees and extract the honey.
“By the end of the season, we had extracted nearly 480 pounds of honey,” said Mueller. The extracting team was made up of Mueller, McTaggart, Cutts and her younger sister and took a whole afternoon once school was let out.
“The two girls have done everything . . . I think what’s really cool about it is it started as a simple learning project about bees,” said Mueller.
The honey was harvested in early August and once again in early September of this year. Many students who were not originally involved in the project made themselves available to check on the bees.
“The ownership with the kids is incredible,” said Mueller.
“It became a school project. Everybody wanted to take part in it,” she added. “That’s just a sign of true ownership.”
After the honey was harvested, the students and Mueller wanted to sell their product of accomplishment via small, labeled jars reading Bee Buddies Honey. “We didn’t just want to put it in Tupperware tubs. We wanted to make the best we could and really learn entrepreneurial skills.”
The brand name came from the nickname Mueller had accidentally given McTaggart and Cutts. “So that just seemed natural when we were standing around trying to decide what to call our little business.”
When it came to selling the honey, parents and other community members were anticipating their purchase long before the first harvest. Some parent would visit the school to buy 12 to 24 jars at a time, says Mueller. By Oct. 9, only 11 jars remained from the original 480 pounds.
“It’s been a great little fundraiser for the school. The money will just go back into sustaining the Bee Buddies project,” said Mueller. Money raised from the honey sale will also be used to support any other Crestomere School entrepreneurial ventures.
Recently the Alberta Government has been making many changes to educational direction and practices through initiatives such as Inspiring Education and is placing a larger focus on making students accountable for their own education with engaging, hands-on lessons.
“This is student engagement at its best, and along the way the kids are developing an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Mueller.
Next year the project will continue with the student “bee experts” McTaggart and Cutt assuming more of a teaching role for the other students.