Going Out

Gees Bees Honey shows ingenuity amidst Covid with bright pickup boxes

How does a small business thrive in the face of COVID-19? With ingenuity, of course!

This ingenuity can be seen at Gees Bees Honey, where cheerful pick-up stations greet people coming to pick up their honey. (Yes, they also deliver to Ottawa — but that option doesn’t include a peek at their honey operation!)

We found out about the cute pick-up stations at Gees Bees Honey through the good folks at Ottawa Tourism, who are keeping tabs on cool ideas and online offerings in a post called Ottawa’s Resilient Tourism Community. Check it out for inspiration and tons of links to the virtual offerings set up by local businesses, festivals, and organizations.

We caught up with Marianne Gee of Gees Bees Honey to find out more about their operation, what the bees are up to this month, and what to expect on the drive out to pick up honey.

How has your business changed since the closures caused by COVID-19?
Well, like it has been for everyone, it’s been a really big change. It was really scary at first. At our farm, we immediately closed our honey shop. We had to quickly figure out how to sell exclusively online, deliver honey across the city, and provide a curbside pickup option, things we had never done before.

My husband Matt had a great idea for honey pick-ups. About three weeks ago, I saw him bringing a bunch of our bright beehive boxes to the front of the farm, where we have a roundabout turning circle.  What are you doing? I asked him. “I’m going to build a beehive pick-up station, for our customers’ honey orders!” Since then, it’s been so popular that we’ve had to add a few more.

Some of the bright boxes used for hives have been repurposed into eye-catching pick-up boxes.

What’s the drive to your property like? Anything interesting that people might pass along the way?
Our farm is at 538 River Road, just south of Leitrim, and north of the Vimy Bridge in Riverside South/Barrhaven in the neighbourhood of Honey Gables. It’s a really nice drive — there are a couple of other beautiful farms along the way, including Greta’s Organic Gardens and Mike’s Garden Harvest.  Greta is Ottawa’s organic seed guru and will be having her annual seedling sale starting on May 10 (online this year). Mike runs a 22-acre vegetable farm that offers a CSA share program for vegetables and a Community Garden. We like to think our bees are pollinating all of their vegetables.

What has surprised you about these last few weeks?
The biggest surprise has been the drawings and notes that kids have been leaving for us in the beehive pickup stations. We were trying to surprise people with our beehives and instead we’re being surprised!

Is there anything you’ve learned in the last few weeks that will impact your business going forward, once business returns to normal?
Our biggest learning so far has been around e-commerce and moving our business online, and offering local delivery. Our online store has been so crucial to being able to survive and we’ve discovered that we can deliver just as fast, if not faster, than Amazon or the big distributors (because we’re already right here in the city!). I’m hopeful that other producers and makers are discovering the same thing: that we can deliver just as quickly, with higher quality produce, whether it’s honey, vegetables, local grain, or local meat.

How are the bees?
May is a magical month for bees! The world transforms from grey to green, with pops of bright flowers everywhere. At our farm, the apple orchard blossoms and buzzes with pollinators. And the city is blanketed with the yellow from dandelions, which the bees love.  May is a really wonderful time to be a beekeeper.