LOUISE MIDGLEY meets artist and beekeeper Sharon Jervis and discovers how she was inspired to create a new range of health and body-care products in her 50s
As a little girl Sharon Jervis was fascinated with birds and learnt to recognise their individual calls. She became an enthusiastic birdwatcher and studied her treasured Observer Book of Birds from cover to cover.
Her love of the great outdoors ignited an interest in all forms of wildlife from small mammals to insects, together with a lasting affection for wildflowers, all of which would feature in her paintings.
Sharon drew upon these childhood experiences during her career as a commercial illustrator for the gift trade by creating miniatures of the natural world in watercolour.
I caught up with Sharon at her country pile close to Market Harborough to find out about her latest venture, Beefayre; a range of health and bodycare bee products.
A welcome party of two swans, some geese, a brood of chickens and three excitable dogs greeted me at the back door, closely followed by their attentive owner.
Now in her late 50s Sharon puts her youthful appearance and positive outlook on life down to being happy.
She explained that the idea for Beefayre was conceived on a trip to Romania with her son Sam, an entomologist, while she was researching the plight of the honeybee as part of her MA in Contemporary Art in 2009.
“In the Carpathian foothills of Transylvania we met beekeepers and studied the ancient traditions of beekeeping. It was refreshing to find an environment so free from pesticides and intensive farming where the healthiest bees make the purest honey.”
As a beekeeper in the UK, Sharon is only too aware that however free from pesticides she tries to keep the plants she grows in her own garden, neighbouring farmers still use chemicals on their crops which are inevitably visited by her bees.
Insecticides such as the neonicotinoids act as neurotoxins and can affect bees' navigation systems, and also lower their immune systems.
Honeybees in the UK are domesticated and depend entirely on humans for their long-term survival but sadly the number of bees contained in managed hives has halved since 1985. Lack of forage and malnutrition due to intensive farming practices and loss of wildflower meadows has reduced their numbers considerably. They've also been suffering from various diseases together with an insidious parasite called the varroa mite, which can kill whole colonies of honeybees.
Bees and other insects play a vital role in our world pollinating an estimated third of everything we eat, so it's in our interest to do everything we can to protect them.
Sharon explained that helping the plight of the honeybee has and always will be the driving force for her business and she donates three per cent from all profits to bee research and conservation.
She gave me a tour of her grounds where two large ponds act as a magnet to attract new species of wildlife.
Billowing fields of grasses and wildflowers, rich in nectar and pollen encircle the water attracting many species of pollinating insects including honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees.
Sharon's energy and warmth is contagious as she points out various insects and a rare orchid. “I've a wealth of projects in the pipeline” she enthuses. “A large tree house will flank the side of one pond and I plan to have interconnecting jetties. Night vision cameras are also something I intend to install as I think an otter is visiting.”
Now in its fourth year of trading, Beefayre is growing steadily. Initially small retailers were Sharon's main outlets but now her products are being sold through Ocado and The White Company.
The wellbeing products, developed by Sharon and Sam are all handmade in England using the purest honey, pollen and propolis from Transylvania. The range includes scented beeswax candles, diffusers, bath and body products and nutritionally rich edible honey products.
Sharon’s unique drawings of honeybees and their natural habitat decorate the product packaging.
Her advice to anyone thinking of embarking on a new career path is simple, “Follow your dreams and if you do something you love you will be motivated to succeed and make a living out of it.”
www.beefayre.com / 01858 434492