A buzzing community enterprise

Cooper Mills tenants turn their honey business into sweet success.

Two people holding jars of honey

Tenant leaders Sylvia Smith and Tracy Roberts

Sylvia Smith used to be afraid of bees.

In 2017, when the building manager of Cooper Mills first approached the longtime tenant leader with the idea of setting up a hive in her community, it definitely took some convincing. “I’m going ‘No! No! No!’ because I was afraid of it,” Sylvia recalled, laughing. “And then he said to me, ‘I’m afraid of it too, but I think it would be interesting to do that and we can learn something together.’”

That fear is completely gone now as Sylvia has partnered with Tracy Roberts to create Cooper Mills Honey. They proudly show off four hives buzzing with activity, sitting in a quiet corner of a parking lot in their complex. “We picked this lot for the hives because it’s open and it has lots of trees and sunshine,” said Sylvia. “It’s the perfect spot.”

Stefan Opryshko agrees. He’s a beekeeper with Alvéole, an urban beekeeping company that partners with different organizations around the city to bring beehives to their locations. He drops in to help manage the hives every two weeks. “One of our goals is to get people over their fear of bees and to learn about the important work bees do in the environment in terms of pollination and sustainability,” Stefan said.

“We’re just reaching out to anyone who wants and loves our honey.”

And then of course, there’s the honey, which has been in high demand to the surrounding community and beyond. “One lady contacted me all the way from Saskatchewan and bought two boxes,” said Sylvia. “We also had a city councillor come in and I told them if you want my vote, you need to taste the honey!” As word-of-mouth spreads, more and more people want a taste.

Tracy also talks about the time they had a booth set up at the local public school. “The school normally has a Winterfest, where they invite people from the community to sell their things,” she said.

“We spent all night designing a booth, and the reception from the community at the event went amazingly well.” They also sell honey at the farmer’s market during the summer.

The best part is that 100 per cent of the honey profits go back into the community. From community barbeques to purchasing back-to-school supplies for local tenant youth, it’s important to contribute to enrich the lives of Cooper Mills tenants, and help those most in need.

Sylvia’s voice is heavy with emotion when describing how they purchased a comforting gift basket for a tenant who lost his wife during the pandemic, and donated money for cab fare so a tenant with cancer (who has since passed) could get to her chemotherapy appointments. “We’ve had a lot of people who unfortunately passed away during COVID, and it’s sad, but we make sure they all get something from the community to help out,” she said. “I always tell them this is a gift from the community, not from Sylvia. Don’t thank me, thank the community and the bees.”

“Just like the bees, we’re a community all the way.”

Cooper Mills Honey continues to expand. “There’s a lady around the corner who just opened a store, and we got our honey in her store,” said Tracy. “We’re just reaching out to anyone who wants and loves our honey.” Asked about how she came up with the name for her company, Sylvia doesn’t hesitate. “I named the company ‘Cooper Mills Honey’ because I wanted people to know that this is who we are: bright, friendly, good people. And just like the bees, we’re a community all the way.”

If you’d like to find out more about Cooper Mills honey, including how to purchase a jar, you can contact Sylvia Smith by emailing sylviassmith98@hotmail.com.

If you’re interested in setting up a hive for your community, you can contact Alvéole via their website at alveole.buzz.