New Sarepta was long past its heyday when Will Munsey arrived in the mid-2000s, but the hobby farmer turned mead maker is hoping to bring some new life to the sleepy hamlet.
“New Sarepta was a really booming little community up until the 1950s, when better roads were built and people started getting individual automobiles and the railway stopped,” said Munsey, a train engineer who, with wife Mika, bought an old berry farm and then took up beekeeping about six years ago.
A couple of years later, with his hives multiplying (he now has 52), he began making mead.
“My first try was pretty successful — I thought it was easy,” said Munsey.
Subsequent batches showed that he had got lucky, and making good mead is hard. So he spent a couple of years trying to perfect a recipe, adding saskatoon berries, sour cherries and raspberries to get the right mix.
With retirement nearing, Munsey thought about making mead full time and constructing a small building for his meadery. Then he heard the community’s fire hall, staffed by volunteers but owned by Leduc County, was being replaced.
“They need more trucks and they won’t fit into the old building,” he said.
Unless a new use could be found for the old fire station, it would be torn down — prompting Munsey to joke to a county councillor that he should put his meadery in it.
“I thought about it more, and thought, ‘Maybe I should do that,” he said. “The project in my mind got a little bigger.”
He put together a proposal over the summer and sent it to the county, which last month authorized officials to negotiate the lease.
“They wanted more than a meadery, so we will have a tasting room and a little shop,” he said.
In addition to his honey and mead, the shop will sell local pickled vegetables. Munsey is hoping to collaborate with the local butcher as well as cheese makers and other artisans.
“It would be a place for local people to put their wares, so when people come to tour the meadery, taste mead and buy mead, and there will be a shop here where they could buy some country products,” he said.
In order to purchase the equipment needed for the project, Munsey participated in crowdfunding with ATB’s Boostr (with small ‘rewards’ like a jar of honey or bottles of mead for donations).
“As of the end of November, we are up to $24,000,” he said, adding the equipment for the meadery is expected to cost $50,000.
Munsey has been making his mead under the label of High Water Honey and Mead, and selling it at Rig Hand Distillery in Nisku. But he’s applied for a name change to fit with the fire hall, and the mead will soon be marketed under the ‘Old Station’ brand.
It’s less than a half hour drive to New Sarepta from Edmonton’s southeastern outskirts, and Munsey said he’s hoping that city folk not only come to try mead or local offerings, but maybe picture themselves living there — just like he and his family did 16 years ago.
“If they are looking for somewhere to relocate, they would see how accessible it is to Edmonton, Leduc, Camrose and the airport,” he said.
Meanwhile, it’s on to the business of turning a fire hall into a production facility and tourist destination.
“I couldn’t have designed it much better. The floors were meant to hold the big pumper trucks, so they’ll be strong enough to hold my fermenters,” he said.
One bay of the old fire hall will be the meadery, and the other will be the shop. Munsey is open to suggestions from the community and is looking for creative ways to include other businesses.
And he’s excited to have something new to liven up New Sarepta.
“It’s a great little place,” he said. “It has been sort of withering on the vine, and it needs something new. We have strong agricultural roots, and we’re close to Nisku so there’s oil and gas and lots of honest, hard-working people.
“We’d like to build on that tradition to build something modern.”
It’s hoped the meadery will open by early 2022.