A corporate career can offer many rewards, but for a pair of Mission engineers, honey is where the heart is.
Husband-and-wife team, Helmut and Olena Straner, are in the process of trading their success in high-tech industries for a life tending to the bees.
“I do want to escape the big corporate life,” Helmut said. “When you’re one of those millions of wheels in a big machine, working seven days a week – burnout, stress, unrealistic expectations – in the last five to eight years, I realized that you can be happy doing something on your own.”
Helmut is a robotics engineer by trade, formerly working at a large corporation in Silicon Valley, and founding a semi-conductor company with clients around the world; Olena has a masters degree in engineering, and works in the Canadian aerospace industry as a director and consultant.
But both fondly remember youthful summers with their grandparents in Europe.
Helmut was woken up at 5 a.m. to work on the family’s farm in Austria, and Olena watched her grandfather tend beehives in the Ukraine.
Now, at the ages 41 and 35, they are buzzing back to those roots with Viewcrest Farms.
“Now I’ve discovered I really like working with them, basically, it’s my thing,” Olena said.
While both are still technically doing engineering work from their home offices, they are starting to manage honey bees instead of people. This is the retirement plan and pension plan, Helmut said.
“On a day like today in the afternoon, you can sit on your tractor and till your land, and you’re getting something done, but you’re not in stress,” Helmut said. He cites his competitive nature and working too hard as the catalyst behind his exodus from his former career path.
The mid-life career change is not a gamble, according to Helmut, who said there was a worldwide shortage of honey in 2020.
“The beauty with (keeping) honey bees, is that you could compare it to mining gold,” he said. “You can make the same money as someone going to work five days a week, putting in 40 hours in an office, somewhere without windows.”
Olena agreed, and said their project is structured, methodical, and something they’ve been working towards for years.
The couple started off with two hives when they bought their one acre Mission property in 2017, this year, they have 65. Part of their home has been converted to allow them to process honey.
They’ve grown so fast they’ve had to get creative to find space for more hives.
Helmut said they first approached neighbours, but some were wary of bears, stings or having strangers walk on their property every three days in the summer.
They reached out to the District of Mission to ask about leasing unused municipal land, and received a positive response from Chief Administrative Officer Mike Younie, who suggested submitting a formal application.
They were successful, with council calling their business plan “impressive,” Helmut said.
“Every cinder block, every two-by-four and every litre of diesel I buy, I buy locally,” he said, adding leasing land from the government is a common practice in Europe.
“We pay an annual fee (to the District), it is a good chunk of money, but compared to a mortgage … it’s really a small fraction.”
Olena said both came to Canada separately, with only two suitcases each, jeans and t-shirts and a couple hundred bucks in their accounts.
“Now 12 years later, we’re seeing that it’s possible to establish a good life in Canada by doing multiple things, not necessarily limiting yourself. You can do engineering and farming and enjoy time with the dog at the same time.”