In this episode of The Agent of Wealth Podcast, host Marc Bautis is joined by Henry Svec, a bee-keeper – or “bee-helper” – at the Wildflower Bee Farm, a 50 acre bee sanctuary in Southwestern Ontario that Henry and his wife Mary opened in 2020, after converting it from a cash crop operation that the family previously owned. Henry combined his knowledge of honeybees with his 40 years of experience in investing to write a children’s book, What Grandpa Learned From His Honeybees: The Little Book to Be Smart with Your Money and Help the Environment.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Why Henry Svec and his wife decided to transform their cash crop operation into a bee sanctuary.
- How Wildflower Bee Farm is educating children on the importance of honeybees.
- The correlation between honeybees and investing.
- Some of the major lessons honeybees can teach us about finance and investing.
- Plus, a lot of interesting facts about honeybees!
What Grandpa Learned From His Honeybees: The Little Book to Be Smart with Your Money and Help the Environment | wildflowerbeefarm.com | Schedule an Introductory Call | Bautis Financial: 7 N Mountain Ave Montclair, New Jersey 07042 (862) 205-5000
Disclosure: The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity and content. It is not a direct transcription of the full conversation, which can be listened to above.
Welcome back to The Agent of Wealth Podcast, this is your host Marc Bautis. On today’s show, we’re going to go talk to Dr. Henry Svec. Henry is a retired psychologist, a real estate investor and more recently, a bee-keeper – or “bee-helper” – at the Wildflower Bee Farm, a 50 acre bee sanctuary in Southwestern Ontario that Henry and his wife Mary opened in 2020, after converting it from a cash crop operation that the family previously owned.
Henry combined his knowledge of honeybees with his 40 years of experience in investing to write a children’s book, What Grandpa Learned From His Honeybees: The Little Book to Be Smart with Your Money and Help the Environment. Henry, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Marc. It’s great to be here.
I’m looking forward to our conversation. One of the commitments I’ve made as a financial advisor is to make financial literacy more accessible. Providing resources to help people expand their skills and knowledge of personal finances is even one of the reasons why I host this podcast.
But since financial literacy classes aren’t required in schools, it can be tough to teach it – especially to children. That’s why I really like what you’re doing with your book, and I find the connection you made between honeybees and great investors (such as Warren Buffet) and the environment to be unique.
Today, we’re going to talk about how parents can teach their children to “invest like a honeybee,” and we’ll all get some great insights for wise money management along the way.
But before we get into the details, can you explain why you decided to turn your family’s 50-acre farm into a honeybee sanctuary?
Wildflower Bee Farm’s Transition to a Bee Sanctuary
It was really blind luck, which is usual in my case. I like to eat garlic, so I grow a batch of garlic – about the size of two kitchen tables – and it gives me a hundred bulbs. At the time we were farming our property, we had a farmer growing soybeans, corn, etc., using Roundup, which most people do. And you have to rotate garlic every three years, so I had to find a little patch to plant it. Over time, I couldn’t find a patch anymore in our backyard, so I would have to go to the farm, but the problem is there was a lot of Roundup on the farm, so I couldn’t grow garlic.
And then I start thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I talked to my wife Mary and she said, “Yeah, what’s the point?” So we spoke to the farmer, who was into the environment too, about turning the farm into a nature thing, with bees. I had been hearing about bees suffering, and I had some prior experience. Previously, I had kept a couple of hives, but they were getting destroyed every winter.
Anyway, I just thought, ‘Let’s try this!’ So it was a combination of luck and trying to grow garlic.
The Introduction to Educational Bee Content
Over time, we created a website for kids, wildflowerbeefarm.com, which has free downloadables such as coloring book pages and lesson plans on honeybees.
I know we’ll talk about the book more… but I was actually writing a different book – which will be out in a couple of years – when all of a sudden, I realized there was a correlation between the honeybees and investing. Every time I’d go out on the honeybee farm, the bees would essentially teach (or reinforce) another lesson about money. So I started thinking I should write a children’s book.
When I had grandkids, there’s this overwhelming feeling I got that I wanted to educate them on all I’ve learned over the years. But when they’re young, it can be hard. So I thought combining lessons about nature, environment and money into a book would be a good way to do that.
Did you go into honeybee farming with the intention of it being a commercial enterprise?
No, it all started with research. I’m a retired psychologist, which means I’m a scientist. What I realized was we don’t know very much about honeybees, because you can’t keep them in a stall like a cow or in a house like a dog.
I’ll give you an example. In the book, you read about the aggressive takeover. In just 10 minutes, a beehive can go into another beehive, kill the queen and take over. So if a beekeeper goes to the bathroom and comes back, there could be a whole new hive all of a sudden. We don’t know much about why that happens.
So it’s incredible to me when people state that we understand bees… I mean, there’s even a class called “Master Beekeeper,” where people can supposedly gain all of this advanced knowledge, but really now we don’t know anything. But I’m okay saying that I don’t know very much about bees, but it’s fascinating to me.
The Honeybees at Wildflower Bee Farm
How many bees are on Wildflower Bee Farm?
Well, we went into the winter with 29 hives, which would be close to about a million bees. Yesterday, we walked around the farm and it appears that all but one hive has survived so far. Now, the spring can still get them. But right now, we probably have about 750,000 bees.
Wow! You mentioned that the farm acts kind of like its own little city, right?
Well, what we’ve learned from some of the science is that bees have to be spread apart. So if you want to see all 29 hives, you have to walk the whole 50 acres of our property. They’re like people – they don’t do well when they’re really tightly-knit. Although, most bee apiaries are really tight – people put like 50 hives together – ours are spread apart.
Believe it or not, bees sometimes forget where they live, so if you put them too close together, they could get confused and go back to the wrong hive. That’s not good because, if they intermix and one hive has a disease, they’ll transmit it to another hive. That’s why we keep them apart.
Another problem is bees take bribes. So if a bee comes to the front gate of another hive carrying honey, pollen or nectar, the “guards” will let them in because they got “paid off.” So yes, it is a society, or like a city, in some ways.
The Correlation Between Honeybees and Investing
When did you start noticing the correlation between the way honeybees acted and investing?
Well, I was out on the farm – around the same time I was reading Pabrai’s book on Dhandho Investing – and I realized that everything the bees were doing was to survive, it wasn’t about a percent return. If there’s 29 hives on our farm right now, the goal is to have 20 to 29 next year. So it’s all about survival.
Then, the second part that resonated was the idea of saving. The bees have about six months of savings as they head into the winter.
The other one is probability.
Personally, I became fascinated with probability when I became an angel investor. When you put your money out there, the question is, what’s the likelihood you’re going to get it back?
Now, when a beehive swarms – which you can read about in the book – they actually vote to decide when they swarm. And the probability has to be in that 75% range. That’s their probability of trying to agree to move to this hive that “the scouts” have picked out. Even with that sense of certainty, they’re only successful about 30% of the time. So even with that high probability of success, there’s still 25% failure, in this case, it’s 70% failure.
You mentioned survival in the form of a six-month savings, are you correlating that to a stockpile of honey? And in terms of honey, are they only able to stockpile in the warmer seasons? How does it work creating that stockpile?
They pick a space to live in, which is where they store enough honey to hopefully survive six months. Honey is like money to them. It’s also their energy.
In the winter here in Canada – when it gets cold – they come together in the form of a ball and shiver to stay warm. That shivering takes energy, which is honey. In the middle of that ball is the queen.
Now, they will go out of the hive in the winter depending on the temperature. Believe it or not, they were out yesterday, and it’s February in Canada. But we noticed that there were some blooming wildflowers on the property – which is bizarre for this time of the year – and the bees were out flying.
So when they realize that the weather is great, they have to leave the hive to do as much as they can. But when the weather is bad, they have to have enough reserves. Having those reserves is life or death.
It’s usually April when they start producing honey.
Okay, makes sense. So what are some of the other things that you’ve learned regarding finances with bees?
Well, we read a lot about how bees pollinate 35% of our food, which makes them very important. But it’s all accidental. They don’t do that on purpose.
When they’re gathering nectar or pollen, they accidentally rub pollen from one plant to another, causing more seeds to be created, which is great for the next generation of bees. Their intention is to make “money” (honey), but they’re work is creating massive benefits, by accident.
Now, I tell the story about how I accidentally got involved with solar. A couple of years ago, we were making about 80 cents a kilowatt on solar panels, which is ridiculous because you could buy it for 6 cents. It was so incredible that we actually bought solar and brought it to our farm, buying it for 6 cents per kilowatt and selling it back at 80 cents per kilowatt.
Since then, there’s a program here where you can put solar panels on your house, and it basically counteracts the cost of your electricity. And you get credits in the winter if you heat, and so on. Do you have that in New Jersey?
Okay. So when we do the calculations, it’s an 11% return on our house and it’s about 8% return on our investment property – the solar. I think that’s pretty good as is, but if the price of electricity goes up – which it probably will in the next 35 years – my return increases.
You mentioned that you have an investment property. Did you get involved in real estate after the farm? Or has that always been a passion?
I started in real estate before transitioning the farm into a bee sanctuary.
It started back in 1987, when I was home from Michigan State. I was a senior there. My wife and I had two kids, and we were all in the car, and we passed this really messed up house beside a railroad track in my town. It was a foreclosure with an $89,000 mortgage on it.
We wanted it, so I called our lawyer up and said, “What do I do?” He told me to offer whatever I wanted, so I offered $50,000 and they took $52,000. I think the interest rate was 13-14% for the mortgage. But, on closing, they gave me $56,000. So I was able to buy the thing and pocketed three grand. My wife thought it was crazy!
We ended up renting the house out, but I was able to use the back of the property to create little workshops for guys who wanted to get out of the house to work on their cars. I think I charged them $200 a month. Long story short, I was making $750 a month profit on that property, which at that time, was a lot. And it was a necessity for our family.
Then, when my three boys went to university, we bought buildings nearby the school to put them up in, and then rented out the remaining rooms to other students. That’s how we grew to have more properties in other communities. That’s how we ended up building up the real estate thing.
Okay. And you mentioned you’re into value investing, have you learned anything from the honeybees specifically about value investing?
Yes, in fact. We noticed that the bees know which flowers are the highest value. For example, sweet clover. If a bee can find a sweet clover, it’s twice as valuable as a dandelion, cherry blossom, and so on, because it has that much more sugar. So when they bring the nectar back to the hive, it takes less work to turn it into honey.
We decided to test this by planting some sweet clover around the farm, and I call them little gas stations, because the bees go after the clover more than any other plants. That’s because they’re value investors.
It reinforced to me the non-emotional need to invest. Rather than be emotional about an investment, look at the actual numbers on the value. Is this actually a valuable thing I should be doing? What is the true value? And what’s the price versus the value? If people thought more like bees – with value in mind – it wouldn’t matter how the markets are doing. It wouldn’t matter what the person on the morning news is saying, or what a book author is writing. They’re high value investors, these bees.
In the book, you talk about the importance of focus. You used Elon Musk as an example of someone who does not focus…
Well yes, I brought that up as an example. I owned Tesla stock for a while, but then when he started doing all sorts of things… I feel like he lost focus. I know he’s a genius, but focus is important.
I’m only good at a couple things, and even those things, I only know a small percent better than a coin flip – but I work pretty hard at them.
I was actually diagnosed with ADHD in my forties, so I had a problem focusing initially. But, every day, I start my morning on the treadmill – which is great for brain health and brain focus.
When you focus as the bees do, good things happen.
Right. Now, can you talk a little bit about how you started teaching your grandchildren these lessons? Kids learn differently than adults do, and I know you obviously wrote the book, but is there a way that you teach these?
So because I realize that most people don’t listen to relatives or friends, my wife and I wrote this book for our grandchildren. In the book, the bees are the ones doing the storytelling – not grandpa, not grandma, not mom or dad.
We link the bee’s stories to the smart money tips, which is really what takes it to the next level. They’re simple concepts, like living below your means, but illustrated in a great way. I credit Mary for the storytelling throughout.
I wrote a parenting book a long time ago for my kids before they went on to have their kids… I find that for me, writing books can be easier than having the same conversations without that added material.
That’s great. Well, Henry, we’re just about out of time. Thank you for joining me today. The work you’ve done for honeybees is amazing, not to mention the value you’re bringing in teaching your grandkids and readers about investing. Where can my listeners pick up a copy of your children’s book?
Thanks, Marc. You can find the book on Amazon. And everything from the book goes back into the farm – it supports everything we do. If you’ve got young children, I think it’s a really helpful education tool.
Definitely. Can you also share your website? I know you have some other resources available there.
It’s wildflowerbeefarm.com. All of the resources we’ve talked about today are there. We have a 24/7 webcam on our hive, coloring books and lesson plans. We’re also active on Instagram, you can find us at wildflower_bee_farm. So yeah, enjoy, learn and have some fun.
Great, we’ll link to all that in the show notes. Henry, thanks again for being on today. And thank you to everyone who tuned into today’s episode. Don’t forget to follow The Agent of Wealth on the platform you listen from and leave us a review on the show.