Valley Bee Café re-opens

The Valley Bee Café at Watino is now oen after ebign clsoed for 110 days du etothe pandemic.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

After being closed for 110 days, the Valley Bee Café in Watino is reopening.

The agri-tourism business was developed to help diversify Paradis Valley Honey’s operations, but had to shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Ginette Paradis, who owns the business with her husband Danny, says while the café has been closed for a long time, she feels it went by quickly and she is excited for some new additions.

The café will now have a certified chef on staff making small batch and fresh food from a summer menu that includes all-day breakfast.

“Come and explore the world of bees with us!” Paradis says.

Extra precautions including sanitation stations will be in place.

The coronavirus pandemic has created what the Alberta Beekeepers Commission calls an “unprecedented” situation for apiarists, with travel and other restrictions making it more difficult for beekeepers to bring in bees to replace those lost over winter and affecting their ability to bring in temporary foreign workers.

Those restrictions and extra costs such as 14 days of quarantine for any workers entering the country have also affected Paradis Valley Honey, but they have done their best to find ways to keep going. For instance, their children have been working with the bees.

“We have a good youth crew which gives us extra hands but our skilled labour shortage continues to put a lot of strain on us,” Paradis says.

“It’s an opportunity to teach and skill share which makes us hopeful.”

The many challenges Peace Country beekeepers have been facing this year came after a wet year last year that already saw honey production drop.

The long winter and extremely wet spring and early summer this year are also not ideal conditions for bees. A long winter can mean more bees die off and need to be replaced, and lack of sunny spring and summer days for bees to fly can severely impact honey production.

Two new government programs aim to offer some relief to beekeepers and other agricultural producers.

The Alberta government announced June 5 that a new program will provide up to $1 million to help beekeepers offset the increased costs of colony replacements due to COVID-19. The program is available this summer and will be retroactive to cover spring.

“Beekeepers not only help pollinate important crops across Alberta, they make delicious honey products. They have a crucial role in Alberta’s agriculture sector, which is why [the government] is committed to supporting beekeepers with an investment of up to $1 million. This new program will keep our bee industry competitive after this difficult year, says Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

The program provides funding support at 30 per cent on a reimbursement basis to cover eligible expenses for approved applicants to a maximum grant of $20,000 per applicant. Eligible expenses include the purchase of domestic nucleus colonies, domestic single brood or domestic double brood colonies.

Apiarists can apply online through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership website.

There is also some help for the cost of workers. The Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program is a one-time $50-million federal program to help with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by assisting Canadian agricultural employers with some of the costs of the mandatory 14-day isolation period imposed under the Quarantine Act on temporary foreign workers entering Canada. Claims will cover the period between March 26 to June 30, and all claims must be received by August 15.

As those aid programs start to roll out, a visit to the Watino cafe not only supports one local business hit hard in the meantime, but gives locals and visitors a chance to experience and learn more about a working apiary at a time when many apiaries are struggling to survive.

The café will be open Thursdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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