Bay Woodyard and Gavin North are no strangers to overcoming obstacles. Bay knew early on that she wanted to live in Prince Edward County and, with no job to come to, moved here in 1998 to live on a farm with a family friend and establish a small collection of beehives. Gavin would travel back and forth from Toronto to visit and help tend the hives until in 2001 when he made the leap and joined her. Bay has her roots in Prince Edward Island and was yearning for the small town feel but knew she still wanted to be close to her friends in Toronto. Prince Edward County was the perfect fit.
Gavin fell for the area because, “It’s just so beautiful. I mean I love Toronto and love that it’s got a lot of parks, but it’s just a whole other level out here.” When they first left the city, most of their friends in Toronto had never heard of the area. They couldn’t understand the attraction. Today they see a complete change in this perspective. “Now people know what you’re talking about,” says Gavin. “They’re jealous that we live here!” Bay and Gavin had no idea such a a hip culture would develop around County agriculture and food, to say nothing of wine, but they’re not surprised.
In 2002 they were searching local listings for property they could afford. They found one in the south end of the County, close to Point Petre, and when they drove out and spotted the small hand-made ‘For Sale’ sign they were hooked. They wanted a home base for their gardens and needed space for their bees. They chose to buy vacant land so they could design and build the home they wanted – and what they wanted was a straw bale home, completely insulated by bales of straw. It presented a challenge for the planning department but blazed a trail for several more straw bale homes to be built, like Owl Farm Studios. It wasn’t any cheaper to build than a conventional house, but it has saved them a lot of money on heating and cooling costs.
The house is the base for Honey Pie Hives & Herbals, their business that produces lotions, lip balm, soaps, teas, candles, honey and more. Bay and Gavin focus on honey and edible herbs. They don’t pasteurize their product and everything is hand produced. Honey production varies each year based on weather conditions and which flowers the bees have access to, but they average 50-100 pounds from each hive per season. They are running 100 hives and plan to expand to at least 200, partly to feed production of their new and very popular mead. That’s wine made from honey water. “When you harvest honey there’s a wax cap on the side that you cut off with a knife,” Gavin explains. “There’s always honey mixed with it and you can’t sell it, so you clean out the honey and use the wax for other products and we now ferment the leftover honey water to make wine. That’s how we make our mead.” They became licensed to make and sell mead in 2014. It can vary from very sweet to very dry, and, since being featured in the LCBO’s Food and Drink magazine, they regularly sell out.
The importance of bees is very much in the news, and Gavin and Bay love to share their knowledge. Gavin teaches workshops on bee keeping right there on the farm and the couple stays in contact with their students. They cheerfully admit they struggled to establish their niche business and say it’s not for the faint of heart. Banks were wary of lending to young people with no property to their name, but they persevered and used every connection they had plus their artistic talents to bolster the business. They attended workshops on business operations and farm financial analysis offered through OMAFRA., got involved in community organizations and events and eventually received a grant from PELA for website creation and photography. Today they’re pretty famous here in The County, at the One of a Kind Show and at farmers markets in Toronto, and they have two young children who help them in the business. Life is sweet.
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