By Darren Lum
Published Nov. 21 2017
There has been a buzz on social media for the Highlands’ newest young entrepreneur Morgan Burke since she exhibited at at the 95th annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair held from Nov. 3 to 12 at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
The Grade 10 student is the owner and founder of The Birds and the Bees a business that specializes in bees and wax products.
Late last week there were more than 300 supportive and complimentary comments posted to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair’s Facebook page for Morgan who they said was one of the youngest exhibitors ever. Burke only saw them – at the behest of her mother – a week ago was taken aback.
“I was amazed. I didn’t think that it would grow so quickly” she said.
The growth of her business was set into hyperdrive when it was included among the more than 300 commercial exhibitors at the Royal.
Days later she was still blown away when she recounted her city experience.
With more than 300000 visitors the Royal offered a great business opportunity but also provided the teen a chance to meet with people and to educate others about her passion for honey production and to learn from others.
“You get to talk to all these different people from different places. I met a couple of beekeepers. They gave me some tips” she said referring to improving harvesting and caring for bees and ensuring hives are healthy.
The Royal almost didn’t happen for Morgan who said the cost to exhibit was prohibitive.
When The Royal’s commercial exhibit manager Heather Sommer learned of Morgan’s storyshe worked with the Burkes to diminish the challenge.
With more than a thousand applications to review to exhibit commercially at The Royal there is an important process required to have one of the spots for prospective agricultural and agri-education exhibit space.
Sommer said said she learned about Morgan from the Burkes Highlands and area farmers’ markets and the Echo article published in August.
“What we learned about this young entrepreneur was impressive. It became quite clear that Morgan herself was very different than our standard applicants” Sommer wrote in a prepared statement. “Part of the intrigue was her age. At 15 Morgan’s dedication towards learning about bees educating people about bees and pollination the how-to aspects of setting up a registered business attending seminars learning how to make all of the products is something quite remarkable! This was definitely something that needed to be included in our event.”
The Royal also wanted Morgan to be included in the event because of her goal to educate is as important as her commercial goals.
“Her story her purpose and her drive was a key factor in our consideration for re-evaluating costs. As this was a blended artisanal craft food and most importantly an education booth the standard fixed commercial rate did not fit entirely. Instead we were able to work within Morgan’s budget for this special booth space” Sommer wrote in a prepared statement.
She continue saying Morgan was well-received by everyone that purchased from her and in particular to other young people.
“She absolutely inspired with her own journey story and spoke to countless students who were here on educational school trips. We hope that the experience here at The Royal education gained and funds earned will help her excel in this business adventure. We feel very fortunate to be a small part in what we hope is a successful growing agricultural based business” she wrote.
This accommodation and how she was treated will never be forgotten by the still stunned Morgan.
“I was so surprised by how much support I was getting from everyone. It is such a big community. I never thought I’d see myself in the shoes of a vendor at the Royal Winter Fair. It was really amazing to go. I’ve never been a vendor at a such a large show. It was a big show for us to go down” she said.
The Royal’s CEO Charlie Johnstone personally presented Burke with a large ribbon for earning the Staff’s Pick for best in customer service and Best Display. Burke received the honour a few days before the end of the event.
Johnstone who responded in an email said he learned about the Haliburton teen from staff as they “found her knowledgeable enthusiastic and engaging.”
“The Royal is the forefront opportunity to showcase innovative artisanal agricultural based products. The Royal proudly supports entrepreneurs in reaching their business goals. As an entrepreneur myself I understand the time and sacrifice required to develop a business and build it to its full potential. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are the future of our great country” he said. “As a father of four I have a personal vested interest in helping young adults. If sharing my journey and experiences can assist a young entrepreneurs like Morgan than I’m more than happy to do so. I look forward to watching Morgan’s journey.”
Johnstone gave her contact information and encouraged her to ask questions when possible.
Morgan is thankful to Sommer and Johnstone.
She said up to this point in her business career the largest show has ever exhibited at were the various farmers markets she has sold her products at this past summer in the Highlands and in the area.
She is in disbelief about coming from the rural markets to end up in Toronto recently.
“It’s hard to adjust from coming from a small town. I had only done local markets to this big demographic of people in Toronto. It took a while to sink in. It’s hard to believe” she said.
Sales were brisk. She easily doubled her total profits for the year at close to a week show in Toronto.
Halfway through the week they ran out of products.
Her parents helped. Her mother stayed with the booth during the week while her father drove the teen back to Haliburton to go to school and to prepare products to take back when she returned Friday.
While at home for school Morgan worked from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. each evening to replenish stock. Her best-seller at the fair was her Monkey Farts lip balm. She sold out of lotion bars and she almost completely sold out of honey. With just 12 500 gram jars left and a Christmas rush expected she has already been in discussion with local beekeepers to help her bridge the gap until the spring when she will harvest honey again.
It wasn’t all work and no play for Burke who watched the rodeo on the last day of the fair.
“That was kind of my gift to myself” she said.
Burke is very aware of the support and help she has received this year.
She credits her parents Darcy and Donna for their help from the beginning and most recently at the fair.
“I couldn’t have done it without them” she said.
The exposure at the event is already paying off for the teen.
In addition to a Toronto store called York wanting to sell her honey she has lined up to sell her products at 2017 ONA Biennial Convention in Toronto from Dec. 5 to 7.
Burke said she is doing her best fitting in attending and completing school work to find time to develop her new website (thebirdsandthebeesonline.ca) using an online resource with a scheduled launch for Nov. 25.
In addition to the aforementioned and her parents Burke is appreciative for the people that have supported her such as Terry Blair who custom designed and constructed the product display cases for the fair for free and for the Haliburton County Development Corporation and its general manager Andy Campbell who secured Morgan’s first business loan.
The teen doesn’t have a specific end or ultimate goal when it comes to her business except to grow.
“I’m hoping this business will fund my future … just whatever I’d like to do in the future whether it be travel or education” she said.
One possibility is to travel to Australia and be able to learn more about Manuka honey which is highly regarded for its health benefits and quality.
Her advice to other young entrepreneurs interested in running their own business: you must remember success won’t happen very quickly and requires work whether it’s marketing or taking chance like going to the fair in Toronto.
“When you get into business it is a lot of work and you have to be prepared for the amount of work. There’s always going to be negative people. That’s what I found. I just have to take what they’re telling you and kind of show them that they’re wrong” she said.
Note: her Facebook business page is called The Birds and The Bees. Find her on Instagram at thebirdsandthebeesonline.