Bees and Honey! Are you ready for this?!?

There’s a lot of things that are really exciting about Second Mile. The fact that this organization is poised to provide services to a demographic that is already extremely under-served is already amazing.  That it does so in such a thorough and holistic way is even more amazing.  I suspect, however, that you are all already in agreement with me on this point… you all read the blog and follow the updates because you, also, are excited about the work that is being done at the center of this organization.  Which is why I want to tell you a little bit about the equally amazing things that are happening more on the periphery and also about some of the things that are still being developed and why they are just as important to the central mission of Second Mile.  

From the time SM opened its doors, one of its primary objectives has been self-sufficiency/sustainability.  In short, the objective is to have as little reliance on outside funds as possible so that we can continue our work (and continue to pay our 20+ Haitian employees) regardless of how much is donated from month-to-month.  

For example, our land is completely supplied with power through our solar panels.  This simple fact means that we don’t have to spend money on gas every month to run a generator.  Also, the entire salary of our gardeners is paid for by the commerce generated from selling the produce we grow.  Not to mention that we have to spend less money on food from week to week because we grow our own.  The list goes on – cows supply milk for the formula we make on site for the children in recovery, chickens supply eggs that are sold to pay for more salaries.  

All of this means that the money that is donated can be directed to things other than day-to-day operations: medicine, hospital visits, further development of our current resources, etc.  That’s important to us, and it helps to insure that the work we are doing here can continue for as long as it’s needed.  

To that end, we are always developing small ‘sustainability-projects’ to diversify our income and pay our people’s salaries.  Two of these projects are ready to get off the ground and swing into full launch.  I want to tell you a little bit about both of them, and then tell you how you can help us to get them off the ground.  

Bees and Honey

About five weeks ago, SM purchased four bee boxes (complete with bees) and set them up to do their magical work on our flowering land.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that the land literally hums with their activity.  The acquisition of these bee boxes was step one of a more long-term plan to start honey and wax commerce on our land, and eventually, in our community.  

The bees have settled in (they haven’t ‘swarmed’ for those of you familiar with the beekeeping speak) and have been working industriously over the last several weeks.  Our next step is to build more boxes for our bees to expand into – a necessary step before we can begin harvesting honey and wax from the hives.  In the meantime, we are learning as much as we can about the art of beekeeping, training our employees, and working on acquiring the required tools (more of that in a bit).  

Bees are really amazing, and part of what’s so great about them is that they require little to no intervention.  The applications are, for the most part, fairly obvious.  Aside from the added benefit of having thousands of little workers pollinating our land, we will eventually be able to sell the honey they produce in the markets (and to visitors).  Beeswax is another useful commodity here – a primary ingredient in candle making and soap making, this bi-product gives us the opportunity to branch into these cottage industries ourselves, or to partner with a variety of small organizations that are already doing this work in the area. 

Obviously this project carries a lot of potential and we’re so excited to see where it goes, but we’re not quite there yet. 

Yogurt

Another project we’ve been playing with is yogurt production.  While it sounds immensely impressive, yogurt is an incredibly easy product to make and can, for the most part, be done with nothing more than milk, started (i.e. yogurt) and basic kitchen equipment (if you like yogurt and have never tried making your own, I recommend you ‘google’ “how to make yogurt” and give it a try!).  

This project is really promising – the overhead is low, and the process is simple.  Once we’ve established a system for consistent production, we can teach the process to the cooks on the land, which they in turn can fold into their weekly schedule.  

Over the last several weeks we’ve been experimenting with and perfecting this process and brainstorming our basic business plan for selling it.  The numbers are promising.  In short, with the production of just two gallons of yogurt a week, we could cover the salaries for two of our people and still set enough aside to purchase several more cows in our first year.  

Of course, we’ve also had upsets with this project: since we buy our milk from small producers in the village, the consistency of milk quality is variable.  Sometimes it is watered down, and sometimes it has simply gone to long without refrigeration, causing it to separate more easily in the production process.  But these setbacks have been really minor, especially when compared to the potential this program has to be a consistent source of income for SM.  

A yogurt-making lesson, at the land. 

A yogurt-making lesson, at the land. 

Now you know what we’ve been cooking up over the last few weeks.  These are projects that we are really excited about, both for their simplicity and for their potential to make Second Mile Haiti a more financially stable and sustainable program.  But we’re not there yet (yes, this is the part that we in the non-profit world call, ‘the ask’).

Both of these projects need some basic things in order to start them off right and make them sustainable.  

For the bees and honey, we need some basic bee-keeping supplies. All of these can be found on our Amazon wish list (along with many other things…)  http://amzn.com/w/2LAAYO1OYXDZP.  

In addition, we are also looking to purchase a hive centrifuge (the tool used for extracting honey from the comb), which is not available on Amazon.  The centrifuge itself costs $299, plus an additional $150 for shipping and customs.  If you would like to make a donation toward any of these materials, you can do so on our donation page! Also, if you’re a closet expert on beekeeping or yogurt making, and have tips or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you.  

What’s Needed:

  • Bee keeper suit + gloves

  • Hive tool

  • Capping knife

  • Bee smoker

  • Bee feeders

We also need a few key things for our yogurt production:

  • Jars for canning
  • yogurt culture 

Again, you can find these on our wishlist.  We also need a lactometer, an instrument used  for measuring the purity of milk (watered down milk doesn’t seem to make very good yogurt).  This item is a little tricky to get a hold of and will cost us approximately $80 with shipping and customs.  

The first honey from the hive! 

The first honey from the hive! 

We want to thank Armen Rashidyan for writing this post! Armen is currently in Haiti and is acting as our resident guru in yogurt production. He's doing all sorts of great work for Second Mile (take this blog post for example) and we're lucky enough to have him for few more months.