Mark Lauterbach - Levac Apiaries
Beekeeper and Agri-Businessperson
What is a typical day like for you?
It depends on the season. During bee season a typical day would involve loading up my truck with the necessary equipment I need, then heading out to visit some bee yards. Those different seasons decide what I'll be doing when I visit - spring is usually the time to inspect all the colonies for health and strength, and help the ones falling behind. It's also the time of year I can make more colonies by splitting the strong ones. By summer time, I will start collecting honey by loading boxes that have been filled and bringing them back to the honey house for extracting. In the fall I'm getting the colonies ready for the long cold winter. Throughout the year, I also run the business side of things which includes packing honey, delivering it to stores and distributors, and serving customers that visit our place. Any one day could include some or all of the above. No two days are ever the same, though!
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
I LOVE working with my bees. I can't explain why, but it's a true joy to spend time with them, help them grow strong, and witness the amazing things they do. I also love talking about bees and beekeeping to others, especially students. I have truly found my passion in beekeeping!
What is the least enjoyable part of your job?
Business. As a medium-sized farmer, I compete with a global market (cheap honey is imported from other countries). The business side is complicated (more than beekeeping!), often unfair, and sometimes confrontational.
Explain the path you took to get to this job (education, internships, etc.).
Personally I met my wife-to-bee who's father was a second generation beekeeper. It was in order to get in my future father-in-law's good books that I offered to help him. Somewhere along the line I also fell in love with beekeeping. Before taking over the business, however, I had several mentors who I helped in exchange for their knowledge. I also read as much as I could get my hands on and joined local and provincial associations. In regards to formal education, most of the entomologists (insect scientists) I've met tell me that a degree in business admin and/or economics would help me keep bees more than a science background in entomology. I (and most other beekeepers I know) have neither.
Who or what was the greatest influence that set you on this path?
My wife and father-in-law - both had been born into a beekeeping family. I was also raised to think and act ethically and was looking for a career that did little or no harm to others. Beekeeping fit the bill perfectly!
What advice would you give others seeking a similar job?
Start slow. Get a mentor and help them whenever they let you. Read everything you can find. Join a local club and sign up for an introduction to beekeeping course. Do it as a hobby for a few years first so you're comfortable enough with the responsibilities and rhythm before trying to earn a living doing it. Try to buy an existing outfit instead of building your own from scratch.
How does your job make a difference?
This is my favorite part of beekeeping! Honey is really just the thing that I can sell to make profit and keep me in this business. The real effect of my bees is on the local environment because of all the pollination they do. Healthy land and high crop yields is what my bees give to the community. Our honey, because it is local, offers great health benefits to those who eat it and many of our customers have been coming back for decades. When our bees started dying off in large numbers our neighbors noticed less production from their gardens, and one farmer I know has started to keep his own bees because he sees them as a vital part of his overall farm health.
How do you use science, math and technology in your job?
Constantly. There are many unknown stresses on the bees lately so hive health is our primary concern. These concerns require a lot of science (much of which is done at the University of Guelph and the OBA's Tech Transfer Program). I am not a scientist or a veterinarian but need to understand a bit of both to succeed.
Critical Thinking and the Scientific Method are two of the most important tools that modern beekeepers must use. There is currently a lot that is unknown and as a result a whole bunch of (sometimes crazy) ideas, solutions, and methods are presented. It is important to think about all of these things critically because making the wrong decision can lead to serious harm to our bees.
Basic mathematics are such a part of beekeeping that I don't even notice anymore. Beekeeping is a numbers game and thankfully honeybees are amazing economists. That is to say that they are experts at taking what resources they have available and making use of them. Much of the management I do requires precise timing and the math equations are sometimes a bit heavy - considering the many variables that affect any outcome.
Technology in beekeeping has changed little since the 1800s. Check out L.L. Langstroth and his bee space experiments - that research lead to the equipment we still use today. There is a lot of new tech in the world of hive health and technology like smartphones are making record keeping and data management much easier (I'll bee putting QR codes on all my hives this year, for example). Other technological advances are in transportation like large 4x4 trucks and cranes that can help lift the heavy boxes (honey is 40% heavier than water).
Is there one course you wish you had taken in high school but didn’t? Why?
I only took the required math courses because I struggled with it. I have tried, since graduating, to pick up the knowledge that I missed out on in high school but it's much more difficult once you're facing the real world. If I could, I'd make sure math was on my list every year.
What makes this job right for you?
I LOVE BEES! I know that sounds bizarre, but it's true and I couldn't possibly explain why. Some beekeepers believe that the bees choose the beekeeper and put them under their spell. Not a very scientific view but I understand the sentiment. Before this I was an IT guy working for the federal government, spending my days in a cubicle in front of a computer. Now I make a living beeing out in nature surrounded by the most amazing creatures I've ever had the pleasure to come across. I'm independent, make my own schedule, am free to try new ideas, and get positive feedback from my neighbors and community.
What's the most bizarre or silliest thing you’ve ever done in this job?
I tried beekeeping in shorts once, that was a mistake. Some of the more interesting challenges are when I get called to collect a swarm. Swarms can land in the strangest places and it's always a challenge figuring out how to get them in a hive. Once a swarm landed on a picnic table in the courtyard of three large apartment buildings close to a playground. It was odd to bee there dressed up in my veil and gently removing the swarm while the urbanites around me continued their lives unaware.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
I play the drums, mountainbike (icebiking in the winter when I have more time for recreation), and geocache. I'm also active in my community volunteering for a number of projects. My wife and I are also raising two wonderful kids doing this, so enjoying parenthood is also a favorite activity.
You just won $10 million! What’s the first thing you’d do?
This is a dangerous question because farming in Ontario has all sorts of financial challenges. The honest answer would be that I'd pay off all my bills, make sure my kids education was taken care of, and then spend the rest continuing to bee a beekeeper. Most retired beekeepers I know still have three or four colonies in their backyard which they run as a hobby. Money (its abundance or scarcity) has little effect on my desire to continue beekeeping. But $10,000,000 would certainly help make it easier to do so! :)