Entrepreneur teen focuses on the birds and the bees
By Sue Tiffin
Published Aug. 1, 2017
Morgan Burke couldn’t help but laugh as she watched her dad, dressed in a bee suit, running from the colourfully painted hives in their front yard after being stung almost a dozen times. He denies he was screaming.
The two learned a lesson that day about timing, specifically the point of time in the day when it is best not to check on the condition of the hives Morgan manages.
“It was like something out of Just For Laughs,” said Morgan’s mom, Donna, who watched from afar.
Being chased by bees isn’t what Darcy and Donna said they expected when their 15-year-old daughter decided to go into business. But Morgan’s interest in being an apiarist is one they fully support, stings and all.
Morgan is quite used to the occasional bee sting and chicken peck. She has been gathering chicken eggs since she was two and used to fill her pockets with tadpoles and bugs when she was a youngster. Her love for tending to animals – pets have included a hedgehog, chinchillas and a sugar glider – led her to an interest in beekeeping this past January, and to night courses at Trent University as well as a seminar held at the Haliburton Highlands museum in April.
“Bees kind of do their own thing,” said Morgan. “I just love them. They’re really gentle.”
Though she has to tend to her two beehives just a few hours a week, she spends about 52 hours a week managing her summer honey and eggs business, aptly named The Birds and The Bees, which the HHSS student launched right after the last day of school. It’s an enterprise that is sometimes overwhelming – because of the amount of learning Morgan had to do to get it right, the amount of paperwork she had to fill out to make it happen, the cost of business registration and insurance, and the time and effort required to respond to sales garnered by the quick popularity of her offerings.
“I didn’t expect I’d be so busy,” said Morgan. “ I thought it would just be a few hours a week.”
But, like the worker bees who act as her coworkers, Morgan has been busy getting the business up and running, doing everything from staining the door on her workshop shack, to sketching the design on her sign and business card. She gathers eggs, cleans the coop, tends to the bees and makes the all-natural products – everything from beeswax candles to cold-pressed soap, to honey-milk bubble bath, afterbite lotion and honey lip balms – herself. Although her parents have stood by her, even when it means donning the bee suit or stepping into a messy kitchen after it’s been used as a manufacturing facility, they admit that Morgan is the brains behind it all and knows best how to create the wares.
“She’s even making the products into the early hours of the morning, still plugging away,” said Darcy.
Morgan’s entrepreneurial skills led to her being awarded a $1,500 grant from the Summer Company program administered by the Kawartha Lakes Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre. The program requires participants attend bi-weekly mentor meetings and activities like a Dragon’s Den workshop, in which the grant recipients and summer business operators present their products and learn everything from marketing to bookkeeping. At the end of the summer, an additional $1,500 is available for grant recipients who have been successful entrepreneurs and followed through with their business plans.
“She’s the first honey producer in the program,” said Diane Steven, manager of the centre, who said 121 businesses run by people aged 15 to 29 have been launched through the provincially funded program since it began in the community in 2003. “You’ve got to have the resources and family behind you to pull something like that off. We’ve been up and have done a site visit, and we’re very impressed with the ambitious operation she has set up.”
The grant helped Morgan start the business, for which she had to purchase the bee hives, a smoker, bee suits and an electric fence to keep the bees safe in an area in Haliburton that can be home to predators like bears. She sources jars from Port Hope and clay from Australia, then brings it all together in a refurbished hotdog stand imported from Orillia that sits on her front lawn, in front of an elaborate chicken coop dubbed “the Hilton.”
Some of her business is done through email requests, but Morgan has become a familiar face at area farmers’ markets and craft sales. She’s up bright and early to be in place in Buckhorn on Tuesdays, Fenelon Falls on Friday and Bracebridge on Saturdays. She’s able to sell out of honey lemonade, and also educate people about bees as pollinators.
“It was intimidating at first, but once you get there, you get to meet all of the vendors and it’s fun,” said Morgan.
Those vendors have become mentors to Morgan, as have neighbours and family members like her grandpa, who help her along the way so she can continue the business through high school in order to help pay for post-secondary education.
“We don’t like to say no [to our kids], if they have the opportunity to learn how to take responsibility,” said Donna.
On her days off from markets, Morgan takes over the family kitchen to continue experimenting with new ideas, and to fulfill orders for gift baskets, wedding favours and storefronts like Rhubarb in Carnarvon.
Morgan is hosting an open house to offer free tours at her workshop, The Birds and the Bees, located at 1075 Parish Line Road in Haliburton on Aug. 6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Refreshments in the form of lemonade and butter tarts will be available. To learn more, call 705-457-2533 or email email@example.com.