The Market @ The Village presents our weekly feature vendor “Bee Inspired Farms”. We got a chance to chat with Bill McMillan, the cofounder of Bee Inspired Farms. Bill and his wife Cherie Riley were interested in starting their own farm after watching YouTube videos of urban farmers in Vancouver; Curtis Stone in particular. The Curtis Stone method of farming focuses on using various urban plots to grow delicious produce and minimize the destruction of land and soil often seen with traditional farming methods. For Bill and Cherie, both employees of the corporate world, urban farming was a new adventure for them both.
About three years ago, the couple started growing microgreens in the basement of their Niagara-on-the Lake home. The produce quickly became popular amongst their friends and family, and in order to expand, they purchased a farm in Wellandport where they now reside. Their long-term goal is to leave their corporate jobs and transform their now small farm into a sustainable career. One of the pillars of Bee Inspired Farms is community education. Education in nutrition, on supporting sustainable agriculture, and how to help the local animal and insect population are all imperative to the small farms’ success.
Regenerative agriculture for Bee Inspired Farms includes their 3200 square foot greenhouse for year long growth of microgreens, the new vegetable garden, chicken coop and hive. Bill describes each of his thirty-three chickens as having their own personality, each one acting like a “little dinosaur”. While the couple enjoys watching their chickens do their thing, they hope to soon bring goats, sheep, and cows to the farm to participate in rotational grazing, a method of animal feeding which helps preserve the soil. Another method of regenerative farming implemented by Bee Inspired involves the planting of cover crops. Most crops are planted for the sole purchase of selling them to consumers, but cover crops are often planted to provide the soil with shade, prevent erosion, and often provide a period of rest for soil that is constantly providing nutrients for cash crops.
Since Covid restrictions and guidelines were put in place this March, many individuals have had extra time at home, where they can often be found in the kitchen. Bill feels that the pandemic has opened people’s eyes and helped them become more environmentally conscious. Individuals are not only noticing what ingredients they are cooking with, but also where the ingredients came from and how they were harvested. The theory that one should NOT DO things like drive cars to reduce our ecological footprint is quickly shifting towards the idea that we CAN DO things to help the environment and work in harmony within our local ecosystem. Bill and Cherie were intrigued by the idea of helping reduce their footprint by starting their own company in sustainable agriculture.
For anyone interested in starting their own small company, Bill emphasizes “understanding who your customers are as individuals, their wants and their needs really helps with the success of your business”. The other recommendation he gave was to know what is going on around you and capitalize on the environment which you are selling in. For example, amidst a pandemic people may feel safer shopping outdoors at The Market @ The Village than inside a grocery store. People may also be interested in eating healthier and keeping their immune systems in top shape. Bill is constantly bringing out new tasty greens for the locals to add to their dishes and increase the nutritional value of their meals. Despite the restrictions putting a halt on many business’, Bill emphasizes that your own fear may be your biggest roadblock to success. Instead of letting fear stop you from acting, he suggests that adapting and capitalizing on certain situations will help your small business move forward. Always remember the journey is a learning experience, and we can learn from our successes as well as our failures!
The first few weeks at this seasons Market @ The Village was an amazing opportunity for Bill McMillan to educate the local community on Bee Inspired Microgreens. Without the ability to offer samples of his products due to Covid restrictions, customers must rely on the farmers’ expert recommendation for which tasty new ingredients they might be interested in cooking with that week. Bill said he used to explain what Microgreens are 100 times during a Market Saturday. After a few weeks of explaining and people experimenting with Microgreens in the kitchen, he has had many enthusiastic returning customers! If you walk on over to the Bee Inspired Farms booth, you will find individual bags of broccoli, radish and pea sprout microgreens, or a variety mixed bag of sunflower pea and radish microgreens to enjoy! Bill says the microgreens make a wonderful addition to salads, burgers, sandwiches, pasta or even pizzas.
The sunflower microgreens especially have a wonderful crunchiness to them and can be eaten from the bag as a substitute for other crunchy snacks such as pretzels or chips. These tiny flowers also happen to be very high in protein and a great addition to the diet of someone who identifies as keto or vegetarian. Microgreens not only come in a smaller package than our traditional vegetables, such as broccoli, but this small package is densely packed with approximately 40X more nutrients than their full-grown counterparts. The pea sprouts have elevated levels of fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C and did we mention they taste great too!
The novice beekeepers Bill and Cherie were searching for a name for their new sustainable farm. Their heads turned directly to the bees, as bees work together to protect the hive and produce honey. They not only are selfless towards their hive mates, but without the hard-working bees widespread tree pollination, even the human population would disappear. The hive mentality of working together towards a common goal and living in harmony with the surrounding ecosystem are values that Bee Inspired Farms holds close to their hearts.
Through sustainable agriculture, Bee Inspired hopes to spread the word about supporting regenerative agriculture, as bees spread their pollen, throughut the local community. Although Microgreens may be the hot topic for Bee Inspired Farms right now, they are expecting honey to be available this fall, so keep your eyes open! We hope to see you at The Market @ The Village this Saturday, talking to Bill from Bee Inspired, and spreading the word with your friends and family!