Did you know that there are 169 million bees in Alberta and the province produces 40% of Canada’s honey? The Greenleeses do. Greg and Sarah Greenleese are two of Alberta’s 800 beekeepers and are pretty much some of the sweetest conservationists you’ll meet in Alberta (pun fully intended).
When Sarah talks about her bees, her face lights up as though she’s talking about children, a family pet or her husband Greg. When Greg talks about his bees, he has an air of authority, like Peter Mansbridge reporting the nightly news. These folks are serious about their jobs as Meadow Sweet Apiaries co-CEOs, chief honey pullers and environmental advocates.
Just outside of Edmonton in a tiny farming community called Tofield, the Greenleeses don their giant white suits each summer to tend their grist of bees. Late July and all of August is like the Stanley Cup playoffs for them: busy as hell, tiring and often risky. Success isn’t always guranteed. This year has been a good one – they both have been pulling honey overtime to try to get everything packaged and stored to sell for the remainder of the year at Edmonton’s Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market.
If you’ve ever been by Edmonton’s Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market, you’ll see their smiling faces every Saturday. They sell all kinds of honey and honey products, from divine smelling candles, soap and different sized jars of honey plus propolis. Propolis or bee glue is a sticky, waxy brown substance that the bees use to chink the nooks and crannies of their homes and people (since the days of Cleopatra) use as an ancient healing remedy. What I particularly love most about this super cute due of apiarists is their passion not only for beekeeping but also the environment. I dare you to ask them about dandelion spray or pesticides: both can ream off stats and facts about the ill-effects of wanton pesticide spraying. The bees of central Alberta are lucky to have two such knowledgeable and dedicated advocates.
So this week, I’m super stoked to Anchors+Proteas first ever couple interview about a couple of f*#king awesome jobs?
So how did you get that f*#king awesome job?
Sarah’s parents were beekeepers for twenty odd years and when they retired we decided beekeeping would be a great adventure and lifestyle for us so we bought the business and took over Meadow Sweet Apiaries.
Can you describe what your job is and what it is that you do?
Well, we are beekeepers. In spring we start new hives and unwrap our overwintered ones. During the summer we collect the honey and wax, which we sell throughout the year at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. In the fall we wrap the bees up tight and anxiously wait for spring so we can start the cycle all over again. It sounds pretty easy but there is an art to caring for these little creatures and it takes a lot of hard work, sweat and dedication to keep them healthy and happy, especially considering we steal most of their honey!
Did you have to give anything up to get here?
Freedom! We can’t pick up and move like we often get the urge to do. A beekeeper stays with his/her bees, which happen to be in Tofield, AB. Also, loneliness and sugar.
Who or what has been your mentor/inspiration along the way?
Sarah: My parents were our mentors for the first few years as they taught us everything they knew about the bees and the business side of things. Lately though my inspiration is the bees themselves. And Greg, of course.
Greg: Sarah, Pat and Carole Nolan, and Jasper the poodle.
In three words or less, what’s the best part of your job?
Sarah: Bees, Bees, Bees!
Greg: Mother F*&king Bees
In three words or less, what’s the worst part of your job?
Seeing bees die.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What is your drink of choice?
Sarah: Red wine
Where was the last place you travelled?
Manitou Lake, SK
What’s on your playlist right now?
Flaming Lips, NIN, Magnolia Electric Co., Shuyler Jansen, The National, Bowie, Mark Davis, Modest Mouse, Meat Puppets, Townes Van Zandt, Stark Martin, Elliot Smith…
What are your top three reads for your career (books, magazines, manuals, podcasts)?
Articles, journals and recommendations by our Provincial Apiculturalist Dr. Medhat Nazr
The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck as an amazing read
And sadly, the most often read, Beekeeping Supplies 2015 Price List
Any advice for someone who’s looking to lock down their f*#king awesome job?
Greg: “Definitely try to marry into it. It’s the quickest and easiest way.”
Sarah: “Once you know what the perfect job is try and marry someone to do the hard work, especially if it happens to involve a lot of heavy labour. That’s what I did.”
What does the future behold for your f*#king awesome job?
Well the future of our bees is sadly up in the air. There are a lot of pests and pesticides that are killing off mass amounts of bees. The pests we can get a handle on, but the pesticide use is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed at government levels.
As far as the marketing of honey goes, we think that there is a great and busy future in it. Natural honey is delicious and nutritious and people are using it more and more instead of refined sugars.
We hope to continue beekeeping together for the rest of our years.
I want to insert a HUGE caveat here AND now. I did not come up with this column name, my favourite, now deceased magazine – Readymade – did. It was one of my favourite columns in the DIY mag. I hope to emulate their ethos here (the questions are from my brain with a bit of audience testing from friends/family). As an introvert and general lover of the human race, I am inspired by people who LOVE their jobs. So I thought I would dedicate some space on the world wide web to profiling people who have f*#king awesome jobs: who they are, how they got there and what advice would they give others.