The sweet-smelling source of Will Munsey's hobby business remains his biggest inspiration.
As the berry farmer-turned-entrepreneur prepares to transform an old rural fire hall into a meadery, he gives a lot of the credit to the tiny creatures that changed his life.
"I am so indebted to the bees for giving me purpose," said Munsey. "Bees live for their communities and put their lives into its collective good. I want to respect the bees by being a bit more like that."
Munsey is adopting a similar plan as he aims to give a boost to his home village of New Sarepta by opening Old Station Honey & Mead later this year.
Munsey said the response from the rural community 50 km southeast of Edmonton has been “overwhelming.”
"I think most people see the potential Old Station has to draw people to New Sarepta and highlight our history and hardworking agricultural economy," he said.
"I’ve told the fire chief that when they have practice on Tuesday nights, we will stay open to serve coffee and doughnuts to the volunteer fire fighters as a way to thank them for their commitment to our little community," he said.
The remarkable journey for Munsey, his wife Mika and their family began in 2005 when they moved to the area and bought an old Saskatoon berry farm and small commercial greenhouse.
About six years ago Munsey decided he wanted to pursue a life-long dream.
"I have always been interested in bees and long wanted to try to have a hive. I took a short beekeeping course and bought two hives. I was smitten with these beautiful creatures."
With so much excess honey, Munsey started making mead--a mixture of honey, water and yeast--in the kitchen of the family home.
"My first batch was amazingly good. I thought, “Wow, this is easy.”
But after that first batch, Munsey struggled with the quality and was forced to pour most of the mead down the drain, adding, “it crippled me with guilt because of the effort the bees go into making honey."
Munsey then attended a course in California, which greatly improved the product taste. As his mead – branded as High Water Honey & Mead – became more popular, he knew he needed to move production out of the kitchen. He approached Geoff Stewart, owner of Nisku-based Rig Hand Distillery.
Stewart said, "Will heard how we had helped out with High Country Beer. He asked if he could get a fermenter for making mead. He started with one and now he has five fermenters."
Munsey said, "I’ve learned a lot from Geoff and owe him a debt I won’t ever be able to repay."
In another fortuitous move, a chance encounter with a Leduc County councillor in 2018 started Munsey on the path to the New Sarepta District Fire Station.
"(The councillor) mentioned that New Sarepta was going to get a new fire hall. I joked that I should put my meadery there." Munsey thought it over and then made a formal bid to repurpose the building. His application to negotiate a lease with the county was approved last November.
Though he hopes to soon end his other job as a CN Rail engineer, Munsey looks forward to opening day at Old Station. He plans to establish the meadery on one side of the old fire hall and have the other side designated for local businesses and artisans to sell their products and wares.
And as he prepares to leave Rig Hand, Stewart is cheering Munsey on.
"Will has turned a hobby into a business. We are happy to see him succeed."