SWANTON — Darci Laroche Benoit grew up in Highgate. As a child, she dabbled in making skin care products.
“They were just for fun,” she says.
But things got more serious when she started beekeeping in 2013.
“My mother wanted to keep bees but was working too much,” she says.
So, Darci and her husband BJ bought a hive so they could all learn together.
“I experimented with beeswax as soon as I had some. I made a few balms, and candles. I started selling lip balms, and a salve along with honey at a couple craft shows when I first started. Those two products are still very popular, and have been perfected a bit since,” she says.
When asked why they‘re so popular Darci replies with a smile.
“Because they’re made with love? But seriously, I would like to hope it’s because I make a quality product.”
Along with her full time job as a paralegal, Darci and BJ started making products from home. That stretched into craft shows.
"It started from my home. Then I outgrew my house and moved into a small space on First Street shared with the Laundromat. I was there for two years." she says.
Benoit had been researching a move to a more visible spot with more space when COVID started.
“We opened last June and the reaction's been so wonderful,” says Darci.
She says during a time of social isolation, “Bees” became a welcome space for many.
“I make all of my own products from lip balms, salves, soaps, scrubs, honey, infused honey, and beeswax candles. These are all from recipes that I formulated,” says Darci.
It's a formula for success, but recent decline in the numbers of honey bees raises concern. A nationwide study in July, to assess the extent of pollinator limitation in seven crops in the United States, found that five out of seven showed evidence of decline.
“What I do know is that without bees our agriculture would suffer greatly,” says Benoit. “I would love to see more farmers grow more bee-friendly crops and use less chemicals.”
So, in addition to selling the products Darci and her family also educate.
“My daughter, who's 13, has been beekeeping with us since she was about 6. She's moderately interested, but loves teaching little kids what she knows,” says Benoit.
"We have a ‘teaching hive’ in the shop, and we love to show it to kids that come in. Sometimes they get a coloring sheet or a sticker. We have also gone to the school during Earth Day events to show off our bee stuff and we use our observation hive at events so people could see bees in action,” she says.
One lesson that she would like to get out there is not to fear the creatures.
“Maybe they do get a bad rep for their sting, but they are usually defending their homes. A honey bee will only sting if absolutely needed ... then they die,” says Benoit.
With annual losses continuing, one man seems to be on the forefront of revolutionizing the beekeeping industry using technology.
Mike James is the inventor and CEO/founder of Hyper Hyve, a smart beehive with patent pending integrated monitoring. James — who comes from the sustainable building industry — says that in looking at studies, he noticed that insulated beehives appeared to perform better than uninsulated.
“As a technology guy myself I really wanted to integrate some way of being able to monitor what is happening in the hive,” says James.
So, James created a hive that allows beekeepers to remotely log into each hive via a cellular network practically anywhere in the world and see the status of their hive(s).
James noticed in two studies that the bees are constantly warming their hive and when they’re doing that they’re not performing other duties. His hive works to moderate the temperature change remotely.
“Even though in the winter time it’s most beneficial, it also works in the summer because the bees aren’t on H-V-A-C duty all the time,” says James.
The Hyper Hyve will also have a CO2 and a GPS unit as well as an accelerometer.
“On some of the models we’re toying with entrance controls, through actuators, so we’ll be able to remotely open and close the hive.”
All this is powered with on-the-roof solar panels with a solar charger that communicates through a cellular modem that James and his team have partnered with Verizon on.
While the kickstarter campaign will start later this month, James hopes the first edition device will be on trucks come July.
“It really depends on how well the kickstarter goes. We’re dedicated to getting the product to people this summer.” says James. “We are shooting for somewhere between $800 and $950 per unit. We feel that based on the survival of bees, honey yield potential increases within the hive, cost of ownership is actually considerably lower,” he says.
Darci Benoit also sees the benefit of advancement.
“I hope that my store will continue to grow! Fingers crossed for more years in business,” she says.