Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kristeva Dowling, Co-Founder of Stolen Harvest Meadery, located in Grovedale, AB, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Our international award-winning meads are a hit with our customers. Our products are scrutinized before bottling, and anything that doesn't match our exacting standards never makes it to the glass. Through diligent research, careful crafting, and a dedication to consistency, we are cultivating a reputation for delivering quality meads that pair perfectly anytime, anywhere. We source our products locally & from the wild. Well-crafted meads can be a lot more than something to drink as a time-passer while out on a dinner date. They are the ultimate experience in terroir: made with local honey means the flavour of Peace Region is in every glass. We are creating the taste of wild Alberta in a glass. And we are appealing to the conscious consumers who are eco-conscious, socially aware, and concerned about what they put in their bodies!
Tell us about yourself
I started out as an amateur beekeeper. And, a few years into the hobby, I found myself with 350 pounds of honey thanks to the work of my diligent bees. Not wanting to let their work go to waste but rather in an attempt to honour their industriousness, I was determined to figure out a way of preserving their harvest. The way I found to do that was to transform their honey into honey wine!
Honey wines are an extremely eco-friendly beverage. Unlike grape winemaking, with honey wines, we harvest the product of bee labour. Quite different from the input-laden grape wine industry, there is no need for irrigation, no pesticides, no insecticides, no fungicides, and, most notably, no clearing of vast biodiverse landscapes to plant mono-crop vineyards. You simply harvest the honey that the bees bring in from the fields or forest.
In keeping with sustainability, we work within an agroforestry model. We recycle the fruit pulp and feed it to our chickens and turkeys. And compost all our organic waste back onto the farm. The per capita consumption of honey in Canada is only one kilo (2.2 pounds) per year—we aim to raise that! (Who would have thought that by making and drinking mead, we could be part of a political movement.) From saving the bees to increasing economic development. In each bottle of mead, there is anywhere from two and a half to nearly six pounds of fruit or berries and between a half to two pounds of honey. This mixture is magically converted to alcohol by specially chosen yeast strains.
So what keeps me passionate about the job I do is really three-fold: I work with local and regional producers, so we are not only keeping our money in our community and supporting local farms and beekeepers but also diversifying our economy: helping to ensure our community's economic sustainability. I adore working with the bees. After all, they are matriarchal and community-driven, and it is a nice model to be inspired by with my business. And I am passionate about the environment and love the fact that mead is not only more sustainable than grape wine but also makes more economical and environmental sense in Alberta, Canada.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I would say my biggest accomplishment comes from winemaking and not just being a business owner. Besides the obvious of being self-employed and directed, my proudest accomplishment is having every one of my wines to date entered into competitions both nationally and internationally have won medals. In fact, in 2021, my Ginger Peach Melomel won Mead of the Year in Chicago at the World Mead Challenge. I consider that a major accomplishment for a new winemaker in a newly launched business.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
There is never enough time to do everything I want to do, let alone everything I NEED to do! And the fear of letting go. Letting go of salaried employment. Letting go of that kind of security. Letting go of the structure that comes with the above. And being completely self-reliant. Obviously, all of that is a double-edged sword: because it also is part of the allure.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Be prepared to bootstrap the business and not rely on loans or investors. There is a lot to be said for slow and steady growth that you are completely in control of. We are in a society that has a fascination with unlimited growth and adages like "6-figure salaries", etc. But there really is nothing wrong with creating a job and following your passion. The goal doesn't need to be myopically driven by "ROI" and "bottom lines." If you can create yourself a sustainable job that you are happy to go to every day: what could be simpler and more satisfying?
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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