A HRF Grower Member Story by Amber Yano
Hungry for Honey Bees
My name is Amber Yano, founder and farmer of MOB Honey and I am (slightly) deathly allergic to bee venom but madly in love with honey bees. Beekeeping was a wonderful accident that slowly grew into a livelihood. If post-secondary education at Alberta College of Art and Design taught me anything, it’s that life can take on sudden shifts and you’ve just gotta roll with it. Four years of art school conditioned me for a life in the arts but after obtaining my BFA, I read a very specific book about ants that shifted the trajectory of my path indefinitely. Plopping my degree on the back burner I became a bug nerd.
This journey in Hymenoptera has taken me everywhere. From tiny rooms stacked with glass jars and drawers full of dead insects ready for pinning and identification, to gas station roadsides for insect collection, and to a little place called Chilliwack - a beautiful mountain town perfumed with cow dung winds. Chilliwack is where I worked on my first apiary. It was there in a hillside yard with hundreds of hives that I realized my allergy to bee venom was something of concern.
I was wearing full PPE - thick rubber gloves, a veil, and a cute baggy coverall soiled in propolis. The bees must have smelled my fear and sweat as they clung around my rubber wrists and fingers, pointing their abdomen tips into the rubber flesh. It was as if I had buzzing, stinging jewelry on that day. My lovely colleague Eddy from Nicaragua came over to puff some smoker smoke on me to shoo the disgruntled bees away. They flew off but left their stingers and venom sacs behind. The heat of the day was making sweat drip from my face and leak into my eyes. Unbeknownst to the venom lubricant on my gloves, I had been wiping facial sweat away with those same gloves. Fear kept the gloves on, but common sense should have removed them before blotting my face!
The end of the day was brilliant. After 10 hours under the sun, I looked in the mirror and was utterly shocked at how swollen so many parts of my face became. Honestly, you should all Google bee sting face… immediately.
Like a marshmallow in too much heat or a foamy mattress bound too tight, I was misshapen. All that wiping of away sweat was actually dabbing venom into my pores. At my bunk that night I tried to shower off the newly formed face I had grown on my first day of work. My boss Peter popped by the lodgings to give me some Benadryl. I opened the door and said, “I’m swollen everywhere I shave!” He looked at me sideways and replied “Kid, I think you’ve got an allergy to bees”.
Almost 10 years later, I’m still hungry for honey bees. It’s stingy, sweaty, and backbreaking but isn’t it all in the struggle that makes life rich?
I should note that all my urban hives are as calm as can be. No bees have died from stinging, and no one has been stung at the HRF property. Bee temperament and defensiveness is a whole other conversation. We’ll save that for another day.
HRF - A Healthy Choice
I've always thought that once I was able to manage 100 hives then I’d truly proclaim the title: farmer. This year was the year for me to reach these numbers. I have several apiaries around Calgary and between Balzac and Didsbury are my main yards. Highfield Regenerative Farm is a special plot of land that truly illuminates the potential when the collective hive mind works together. Community is born through earthy soiled fingers, shovels, and food.
Like many members at HRF, it is my first year occupying a space. I currently live in the city with dreams to move to a nearby county but for now, having access to land in the city at HRF for honey production, bee management, and inventory storage is huge. It’s a beautiful bridge into a community I didn’t know I needed. The permaculture way is the best way.
Knowing that there are zero pesticides on site is not only beneficial for the people consuming food grown at HRF but it’s also one of the critical thresholds for healthy honey bees. When these supergeneralists have access to a diverse range of nutrition, a pesticide free landscape, and an integrated pest management strategy, then the colony has a better chance to thrive and survive winter.
My little nest of hives at the farm encompasses ten beehives - two of which are Highfield Farms. The redhead and the brown bum honey bees are calm, cool, and collected foragers.
For me, one of the perks of being a member at HRF is having access to knowledge. Like many of us, growing food ethically and sustainably has not been passed down from previous familial generations. Though I am busy tending bees all over the city and am not physically there as much as I’d like to be, the connection into their permaculture methods is ever present through social media and their community events.
On Instagram I listen to Jeremy share garden site selection tips. I view Heather connect and generate conversations with many stakeholders in YYC (like Highfields municipal councilor Gian-Carlo Carra). Heather also raises compost awareness with the Compost Council of Canada founder, Susan Antler. Finally, Mike is the king of soil and has shared IG tips on how to create LIVING SOIL on you guessed it…. social media’s finest, Instagram.
There are so many contributors behind the scenes at Highfield Farm, but some prefer to work in the shadows, so I’ll refrain from singing their praises here.
As a gal living a lone-wolf life, membership at HRF is the healthiest choice I’ve made all year!