Saturday, March 1, 2014

Birth of a Salesman

For all his laudable personal qualities—honesty, first-rate smarts and a willingness to work, among others—our gardener Félix' prospects in life are dampened by the fatalism that pervades most Mexicans in the campo or countryside.  Life is but a torturous trek and you just pray something really awful doesn't happen along the way.

It's not a worldview that engenders creativity or entrepreneurial leaps of faith. At best it prompts desperate runs for the border to seek work in the U.S.  Félix has done that twice.

Which brings us to the thirty-five-plus jars of premium organic honey extracted last week from Félix' beehive which has buzzed away in the ranch for the past year. Yesterday, amid an epic mess in the kitchen, he and Stew strained about five gallons of honey that they then poured into jelly jars fresh from the dishwasher, ready for labels I'd created on the computer.

Two days ago I'd said to Félix that I'd try to sell some of the honey to our friends but then he'd have to figure out how to market the rest. His reaction was a shy smile followed by confusion and ultimately disbelief, as if someone had announced it was time to put on the spacesuit because the rocket for Mars was leaving shortly.

"But how am I going to sell the honey?" he said sheepishly.

"Dunno. That's for you to figure out."

Stew got into beekeeping about two years ago and took Félix to a series of classes sponsored by a chaotic outfit with the grandiose name of "San Miguel Apiculture Collective." Part of the plan was to get Félix to raise and sell his honey. At the end of the training he received his own beehive which he installed about three meters away from Stew's.

Sometime last year Stew's queen bee lapsed into a menopausal torpor and his hive produced little honey. Félix' nearby hive almost exploded. When all the panels returned from a centrifuge last week Félix became the owner of almost five gallons of honey.

Stew received a measly quart. He expects a new queen soon but then the dowager has to be killed first. No details yet on the method of execution, whether by hammer, folded newspaper or careful decapitation with an X-acto knife.

I hope the unceremonious regicide doesn't provoke thousands of pissed-off bees to angrily swarm the ranch attacking humans, dogs, cats and other mammals like they did a year ago when Stew and Félix clumsily tried to peek inside one of the hives.

Beekeeping certainly hasn't been a profitable venture for Stew who assumes all the expense but none of the profit. He has had to buy two beekeeper suits, the hives, smokers, and much additional paraphernalia. To break even he'd have to peddle honey to the bears in Yellowstone by the truckload.

We have encouraged Félix with all aspects of his mini-enterprise, including competitive pricing (we checked other types of organic honey sold in town); marketing (this is not the usual honey sold at roadside stands, often adulterated with water and sugar and packaged in scuzzy plastic containers); and have worked up alluring profit figures (if you sell thirty jars at eighty pesos each, that's a nifty $2,400 pesos which you can use to fix your car or pay for your daughter's upcoming baptism!).

The last argument has had the most impact and he's gradually working up a pitch for selling his product at the local food markets. I mentioned that if someone bought several jars he could negotiate a discount. Félix liked that idea.

So far he has sold a jar of honey to his mother and another one to the woman who cleans our house. A tentative start it is but hey, he's been in business for only two days.

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