GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. – Even though Benjamin Cornect grew up in a rural area of the east coast province, there were no agricultural subjects offered to him at the local high school.
Although he found that odd, the lack of early training at school, did nothing to stop him in his quest to further his knowledge in the sector.
“Knowing that I always liked to work outside and had some interest in Christmas trees, blueberries and, of course, bees, I took a two year Agricultural Business Diploma at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College,” he said. “That was something I figured would get me the required skills in running the financial part of a farm should I ever decide to pursue a life in farming.
“Also just to test myself and make sure beekeeping was really something I would enjoy and could do for a living, I sought work here in the province with a commercial beekeeper where I learned many of the skills you simply cannot read about in a book. You could say the NSAC prepared me for running a farming business and my four years working for a commercial beekeeper was my Beekeeping University.”
Benjamin grew up on a farm but it wasn’t exactly how most might picture it. While many think of cows or livestock, rolling fields and barns, the family farm was more wood, chickens and turkeys (a hundred or so for their own meat and some for sale to the neighbours) as well as blueberries.
The Cornect Family Farm, as it pertains to bees, has been around for 18 years, the last two of which have included Benjamin’s involvement and expansion of the beekeeping side of the family enterprise.
“My father had fished a few ponds that we would have yearly U-fishes at and, of course, our blueberry fields,” he added. “It wasn’t until I was about 12 or 13 that my mother got her first few beehives so we could pollinate our own blueberry fields.
“In terms of my own interest, I was highly motivated during my time at the NSAC and my time working for another beekeeper here in the province. Bees have always fascinated me. They are probably the most interesting thing on this planet you will ever encounter. I began to see more and more why my mother was interested in bees and the products she could make out of every little thing a hive produced.”
This helped him realize the importance of farming in general as well as the potential of going into such a niche sector of agriculture.
Nothing really sparked a specific interest with him for years until he started his studies at the NSAC. Many of his friends he grew up with had aspirations of becoming sports players, teachers, or tradesmen. All Benjamin really knew was that he enjoyed the outdoors and could never picture himself “in a suit and tie punching numbers or doing reports all day long”.
“I found bees to be the most fascinating things anyone could encounter,” he explained. “Every day is a different day, especially since once you think you have bees figured out and you think you know how they’ll behave or develop, they always seem to find a way to surprise you and do something you hadn’t completely expected.
“It’s also nice to help promote such a misunderstood industry and try to educate people on many of their misconceptions. It’s something we always strive to do here on our farm. I’ll often take curious people out into a bee yard and show them the inside of a hive, or my parents get busloads of Grade 3 students from local schools down each year to see a bee yard in person and get to look at bees up close. It often amazes me how a bus load of young people like these have less fear and more interest in what goes on inside a bee hive than adults”.
Describing the business aspect as ‘rather cumbersome’, he says commercial or large scale beekeeping takes a lot of capital investment for buildings, heavy equipment, extracting equipment, in addition to all the wooden ware and supers needed to house the bees.
“The other interesting part of beekeeping is that it isn’t something that you can entirely pick up from a book,” he continues. “No two beekeeping seasons are ever alike and you often encounter different conditions that you may go years without ever having thought of or expected.
“Weather plays a very influential role in beekeeping. Bees are slaves to the weather and it often dictates how fast they will build up in the spring, how much honey they produce that year and how many survive the somewhat harsh winters we have here in Nova Scotia.”
STUNG ME QUITE A LOT
Now 29-years-old, he runs the beekeeping portion of the farm. He deals with pollination orders, honey production and all other aspects of the beekeeping side of the family business. He has taken over that side of the business for the past two years when he purchased all his parents’ parents hives and brought more than 200 additional hives into the operation.
“This gives my parents more time to devote to their side of the business which has been rapidly growing over the past few years as more and more honey is sold to high end markets and more value-added products are added to the operation,” he said.
“When I was young I helped out a lot on the farm itself but when it came to bees I only helped when it was needed. Back then, I had the misfortune of crossing a blueberry field where the hives had just been moved from pollination. The hives were moved too early in the day and there were loads of bees that were now homeless. They weren’t too happy about it, to put it mildly, so I bore the brunt of their unhappiness. They stung me quite a lot.”
Looking back at that incident, he describes it as a bit odd, because he remembers for years hating bees and not wanting anything to do with them. “It wasn’t the bees to blame that I got stung, they couldn’t help their natural reaction to their current situation,” he rationalizes today.
His sister Amanda helps out with most of the sales with his mother Margaret goes to and is at the Farmers’ Market every weekend at the Farmers’ Market. She helps out when it comes to the honey and value-added part of the family farm.
In terms of goals, he says for the short-term the family is looking to finish the extracting facilities. This year they will build a rather large extracting room with a commercial extracting line to process the honey. It will be a federally inspected facility which will allow them to export the honey out of the province.
“As for long term goals the main one seems to be to increase our hive numbers to 450-500 colonies to support blueberry growers within our local area, as well as shift some of our focus on honey production so we can expand our markets to other parts of the country and into newer specialty markets,” Benjamin said.
So what kind of advice would he give to other new young farmers?
“If farming is your passion and you truly enjoy the work and the lifestyle then all I could say is go for it,” he said. “However, make sure this is a lifestyle you truly want because farming isn’t a nine-to-five work day five days a week with weekends off, paid vacations and a company car.
“I’m sure it applies to all sectors of farming. You work when your work needs to be done until it’s done. It means some days are longer than others and some work weeks are seven days long not five. Farming is a lifestyle not a career – that would be the easiest way to put it.”
FARMERS AT HEART
He believes even more young people will be getting into farming in the coming years, although it may not be in the tradition manner.
“More and more farming operations are mixed farms with many different productions in varying commodities,” Benjamin explained. “The innovation young people bring to agriculture is very important and will most likely change the shape of agriculture in the near future. Mixed farming operations can be highly profitable and very sustainable.
“I think you will always see the trend of young people taking over their parents’ farm when they grow up but I think more and more these days farming is actually an option for many others who didn’t grow up with a farming background. I was astonished at the number of people who attended the NSAC with me that had little to no farming background at all but still saw a future in agriculture.”
Benjamin says he was attracted to both the business and lifestyle aspect of the business.
“I honestly don’t think there is any other way I could live,” he adds. “I get to work out doors most of the year, the work I put into my business I can see the results first-hand and I have more time to spend with the wife and our families.
Currently on the Board of Directors for the Antigonish Guysborough Federation of Agriculture and a member of the Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association, he says it is always necessary to keep up-to-date on what is going on in the industry. He has taken the odd course over the past two years, for bookkeeping and financial aspects of the business.
“I really couldn’t imagine any other way to live,” he concludes. “Maybe some people are just born farmers at heart.”
For more information on the Cornect Family Farm, log on to www.cornectfamilyfarm.com.