Destrehan family’s sweet success with local beekeeping business

Jannet Cancella and her Destrehan-based family business, Bees Are My Business, have collected and sold honey and honey-related products to St. Charles Parish families for each of the last 24 years. She and her family have found a way to both care for the environment and the local bee population, while creating income at the same time.

Cancella’s family-owned business markets its local honey and honey-based products primarily through the German Coast Farmers Market, attending both the Westbank dates on Wednesday at the Westbank Bridge Park, along with the East bank dates on Saturdays at the St. Charles Parish East Regional Library.

“In June we do a big demonstration at the library; I bring all of my [processing] equipment out there and show how everything is done,” Cancella, 68, mentioned.

Cancella’s husband came from a line of beekeepers, a family occupational interest that eventually led she and her husband to getting into beekeeping themselves.

In 1999, the Cancella family was gifted with what is known as a “nuc” by another local master beekeeper, James Polk. The word nuc is a nickname for a nucleus hive, a miniature hive created for easy installation into a hive box. Many new beekeepers start their first hives with a nuc, which includes all the components a new beekeeper needs for the queen and bees to grow into a productive colony.

The Cancella family found working with bees to be a relaxing pastime, perfect for letting go after a taxing day at work.

“He would come home from work, and he might have a stressful day, and he’d go and lay out in the backyard…in front of that little nuc and just watch the bees,” Cancella said of her husband when the couple first got their initial nuc. “And then we just started collecting them, working with Mr. Polk and removing them from people’s houses and giving them a new home.”

Within just a few years, their hive collection had begun to grow steadily. She has since developed a local reputation for removing and saving local hives all over the parish, sometimes receiving calls even from local plants who preferred to have hives removed from their premises rather than destroyed.

When their beekeeping mentor Polk passed away in 2006, the couple received an unusual inheritance, something other than money, cars, homes or jewelry.

They instead received bees – and lots of them.

“When he passed away in March of 2006, he left us his bees,” Cancella said, which meant they were suddenly the new owners and caretakers of tens of thousands of additional bees.

By 2006, the Cancellas already had around 20 to 30 hives being stored in their backyard, which they had accumulated by collecting unwanted hives from other locals in and around St. Charles Parish. The sudden bee inheritance from their mentor and master beekeeper Polk prompted them to purchase an additional tract of land in Paradis to house their expanded hive collection.

Their six-acre Paradis tract houses not only hives, but at one time prior to Hurricane Ida it also housed numerous fruit trees and other plants which benefitted from the local pollination their bees provided.

This year’s unforgiving heat, along with unusually dry conditions, caused a slight drop in their current hive count, with their current hive numbers hovering around 90, down from about 100 at one time a few years ago. The Cancellas are in the process of returning their Paradis property and plants to pre-Ida conditions, which is when their hives had some of its best overall honey yields.

Bees Are My Business has expanded over the years to sell much more than just local honey, offering additional honey-infused snacks and condiments, such as honey butter.

“During the fall I [offer]…cinnamon, strawberry and blueberry honey butter,” Cancella said of the honey butter varieties she sells. “And then I also have a cream honey, with cinnamon and caramel.”

Cancella also offers, when available, honeycomb products, bee pollen, as well as her own honey-infused homemade peanut butter.

“We take the peanuts, roast them, peel them, roast them again with honey and sea salt; no preservatives,” Cancella said proudly of her nut butter process.

Eating locally produced honey has long been regarded as a natural remedy for allergy sufferers, Cancella said. The logic behind consuming local honey is straightforward: if a person ingests the same pollen that brings them discomfort by eating locally produced honey, it is said to help build up an immunity against their pollen allergies.

“There are so many beneficial things [honey is useful for],” Cancella commented, citing its use for treating cuts going back to ancient times. “Raw honey is good for wounds; it [helps prevent] infection because bacteria cannot penetrate through raw honey.”


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