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Happy and free to ‘bee’ me
“Bee-lieve in Yourself.”
Frustrated and fed-up of having to leave home in the dark and return long after the sun had set all in order to avoid sitting in traffic, Marlon Cowie-Clarke decided to give up his government-appointed job and pursue his passion for rearing bees and making honey.
While the job managed to cover the bills and afford him a comfortable lifestyle, the 35-year-old revealed, “I was searching for a less stressful way of earning a living.”
A transplant of Scarborough, Tobago, the Trincity resident has been operating Perissos Marketing and Distribution Ltd since 2010.
The self-taught beekeeper claimed his curiosity piqued at the age of ten, as he watched his father pursue his hobby in the backyard.
Exploring other avenues as he contemplated a career change several years ago, the COSTAATT graduate decided to transition from his job as an IT specialist to professional beekeeper, because he wanted to “effect a lifestyle change”.
This change he hoped, would give him more time with loved ones and also allow him the opportunity to pursue other hobbies that were always of interest to him.
Although beekeeping remained a “sweet” vice on the side as he navigated the hurdles of daily living, Cowie-Clarke said he never totally relinquished his childhood dreams of just making honey and supplying honey-combs to friends and family.
Through Perissos Marketing and Distribution Ltd, Cowie-Clarke now supplies select groceries, hotels and restaurants with liquid honey, comb honey and chunk honey.
He is also intent on expanding operations in the coming year with pollen, cream honey and even a honey wine.
Bee pollen is called the “bread” of the hive, while honey is referred to as the milk.
It is pollen that actually sustains the bee’s lives as without this superfood, bees will not have enough energy to produce honey.
The bee pollen is made of pollen grains mixed with nectar or honey and digestive enzymes secreted by the worker bees; while honey on the other hand is regurgitated nectar.
For years, honey has been used widely as a natural remedy for coughs, colds, and sore throats.
Cowie-Clarke - who has apiaries at Spring Garden, Union Village and Plymouth in Tobago; along with operations in Sangre Grande, Aripo, Brasso Seco and Arima in Trinidad, claimed to be among the medium- sized suppliers in the local market.
In T&T, small beekeepers are defined as anyone with under 50 colonies; while medium beekeepers have between 50 and 250 colonies; and large beekeepers possess upwards of 250 colonies.
Cowie-Clarke said though it is difficult to check how many bees were in each colony, he estimated this figure could range between 30,000 and 55,000 bees per colony.
An apiary (also known as a bee yard) is a location where beehives of honey bees are kept.
Apiaries come in many sizes andcan be rural or urban depending on the honey production operation.
He explained, “The locations where I choose to have my bees are in more forested areas so that they don’t really get some of the chemicals that affect the bees that much.”
Refusing to blame farmers for the recent situation where bees are going out and coming into contact, “With some kind of poison,” Cowie-Clarke said the effects had led, “To them coming back to the hives and dying.”
“That is one of the main reasons I try to not have bees close to areas where major farming is taking place.”
Confirming he wholesales his products via bottles, Cowie-Clarke who is also the President of the T&T Beekeepers’ Association, said larger operators may be more inclined to wholesale honey by the bucket.
It is illegal to import honey into the country and anyone found to be smuggling the contraband product can face prosecution.
Cowie-Clarke said T&T possesseda unique culture where, “We have several religious groups that all use honey in their prayers and ceremonies,” hence the constant demand.
Cowie-Clarke said his choice of profession allowed him to operate on his own timetable.
Pressed to say if the current economic climate had affected his business, he admitted it had.
However, he hastened to add, “It is an elastic good because it is something that people don’t really need per say, but they use it for one reason or another but becauseof the price, some people may cut it out.”
Asked about whether the industry is shrinking or growing, Cowie- Clarke said, “I don’t believe it is shrinking.”
“In fact, we have seen an increase on both the demand and supply sides.”
“In the last five years, we have seen an increase in the number of beekeepers so this augurs well for the industry.”
Elaborating about some challenges beekeepers face, Cowie- Clarke said, “Over the last two to three years, we haven’t had good weather in terms of rearing bees.”
“This year, we had a rainy January and this has affected production because what we were expecting from the bees, we haven’t seen it as yet.”
Cowie-Clarke said this had resulted in supplies running low, with only large beekeepers possibly maintaining enough supplies to last until the end of the year.
Laughing as he claimed to have been stung “countless” times during his 25-year-old love affair with bees, Cowie-Clarke said product diversification was high on his list of goals in the immediate future. Asked if the myth that bees ate honey only was in fact true, Cowie-Clarke said he fed his bees white sugar mixed with a pollen substitute—which costs around $1,500 Appealing to the authorities to bring back the Apiaries Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture, he said there were many issues affecting beekeepers which needed to be urgently addressed—but despite it all—Cowie-Clarke said he intends to keep on making honey one pot, or rather one bottle at a time.
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