Sweet Is the Work

by Kathleen Lubeck

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    These Canadians think their project’s a real honey.

    Thick, sticky, golden, gooey, sweet honey. It’s called “le miel” in French-speaking Canada, where you find boxlike beehives clustered in the green fields of a countryside sprinkled with blue cornflowers, purple thistle, and the delicate white blossoms of Queen Anne’s lace.

    In that same countryside, in the little town of Sainte Brigide d’Iberville, about 33 miles from Montreal, you’ll see corn fields, barns, and silos—and teenage boys working around the blue and white beehives of Monsieur Marcotte, the beekeeper, who speaks only French.

    The boys are helping gather and process honey, and each is paid a bucket of honey for a day’s work. It’s a gooey salary, but they put it to good use. With the help of the other young people in the LeMoyne Ward, they package and sell the honey, then put the money into a fund for their upcoming trip to the Washington D.C. Temple, 12 hours away by car.

    “This way I don’t have to ask my mother and father for money for the temple trip,” says Samuel Maltere, 14, of the LeMoyne Ward. “I’m really looking forward to going to the temple. Working with honey is sticky, and you get dirty doing it, but it’s worth the effort. And after learning how honey gets to our dinner table, I appreciate it a lot more now.”

    How did the young people get involved with honeycombs, bees, and Monsieur Marcotte?

    “It first started when we talked to our teenagers about going on a temple trip,” says Bishop Joseph Wilfred Serges Limoges. “Everybody wanted to go, but nobody was financially ready. Our ward clerk works with beehives and knows Monsieur Marcotte, so he suggested this project, and each young man and woman I interviewed wanted to do it.”

    Monsieur Marcotte has 83 beehives in four locations around Sainte Brigide. Each beehive is made up of five square honeycomb frames stacked on top of each other, with about 100,000 cells of honey on each side of each frame.

    Monsieur Marcotte taught the boys from the ward how to gather the honey and process it. “You can read books about beekeeping, but you learn by practice. You need experience in beekeeping to get a good product,” he says.

    How do Sam Maltere, Mark Pelchat, and other ward volunteers harvest the honey?

    “First, sawdust is burned by the hive to create smoke when we go to gather the frames, because the smoke tranquilizes the bees and makes them less likely to sting,” says Mark, 14. (It’s a good idea to encourage as many bees as possible to fly off when the boys are gathering honey.) The boys dress in protective clothing when working by the hives, but occasionally they do get stung.

    “It’s fun working with the bees, but the only thing I don’t like about it is getting stung,” adds Mark. “I’ve only been stung three or four times.”

    The boys carry the honeycomb boxes from the hives to a special hut used for processing the honey. The honey is harvested twice a summer.

    “We close the doors of the hut so the bees don’t smell the honey inside, and we put sawdust on the floor because it’s easier to clean up all the honey drips that way,” says Mark. “Then we use electric knives to remove a thick coat of wax from off the top of each honeycomb frame, and put the frame in an extractor, which looks like a large stainless steel kettle. The frames are spun around in the extractor, and the honey is forced out. We drain the honey into buckets, then pour it through a screen to strain it.”

    When the boys take their pay (buckets of honey) home, the other young people from the ward help pour the sticky stuff into smaller containers. Then it’s sold to friends, or to customers outside a health food store owned by a Church member in Montreal.

    “We tell the people who walk by our stand that we’re raising money for a trip to our temple. We show them a picture of the temple and tell them what it means to us,” says Frankie Belot, 17.

    Bishop Limoges is out in front of the health food store with his young men and young women, cornering potential customers. He’s as involved in the fund-raising project as the kids are. “It’s important for these young people to go to the temple,” he says. “We have ten of them going on this trip, and only three have been to the temple to do baptisms before. I feel that’s a real success for our ward.”

    Going to the temple is an event that the young people really look forward to. “We want to be baptized for those people who’ve died without being introduced to the Church,” says Sonya Roy, 15.

    “We’ve been selling honey outside the store today for about six hours,” says Phillippe Cazeau, 16.

    “We feel that if we go to the temple, we need to work for it.”

    Photography by Sharon Beard and Ron Hamilton

    Young men from Sainte Brigide d’Iberville, near Montreal, help Monsieur Marcotte gather honey from his 83 hives. They’re paid a bucket of honey for a day’s work, and the proceeds from its sale go toward a Washington, D.C., temple excursion.

    Twice a summer the comb is harvested from the hives and taken to a special hut where the wax is cut from the frames with electric knives. The frames are then placed in an extractor, spun, and the resulting honey is strained through a screen.

    When the boys take the honey home, the other youth in the ward help them pour it into smaller containers. Then they sell the honey in front of a health food store owned by a Church member. Customers are often told about the Church.