Honey Producers: The Sweet Side of Southern Minnesota

September 6, 2017

‘Buzz’ is the word around southern Minnesota.

With the growing amount of honey producers, and the growing demand for local honey, the availability and desire for the sticky sweet product is surging year-over-year. According to the USDA Honey Report release in March 2017, United States honey production was up 3 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Local honey is not just desired bottled and on a shelf, restaurants are also incorporating local honey into their recipes. For example, honey from The Bee Shed in Oronoco is used in some treats found at Café Steam in Rochester.

Honey has many benefits – soothing a sore throat brought about by the harsh Minnesota winter, as well as aiding in natural allergy relief. Honey is also a great moisturizer and is often used in lotions and soaps, giving them a nurturing texture and sweet scent.

Whether you’re looking for a natural sweetener, or a delicious topping for your favorite dessert, there are many choices for local southern Minnesota honey. Buying local honey has more than just health benefits, it also puts your dollars directly back into the local economy.

Most small honey producers are in the business as ‘sideliners’, meaning they have a different source of primary income, and beekeeping is an ‘after hours’ gig. According to the National Honey Board, “the vast majority of [beekeepers] are hobbyists with less than 25 hives”.

On the flip-side, many commercial beekeeping operations are handed down from generation to generation.

I spent the afternoon with the Tom Owens of Johnston Honey talking about the challenges and highlights of the bee business, and taking a tour of some of the hives. Based out of Rochester, Johnston Honey has hives placed in multiple locations, all surrounded by prairie wildflowers, to give the bees the best chance at thriving and producing delicious honey.

While the business has been around for many years, Tom and his family are new to the game. As a colleague of Dr. Don Johnston at the Mayo Clinic, Tom had assisted in harvesting the honey until an opportunity to take over the business presented itself almost two years ago.

Johnston Honey’s bees are largely wildflower fed, giving the honey a rich and floral taste. When asked his favorite part of the bee business, Tom simply replied “giving the bees the best opportunity to produce honey”.

From his knowledge of “planting” the queen bee each spring, to harvesting honey in fall, you would never guess that Tom had been in the business for any less than a decade. Most of the business has stayed steady through the transition from Dr. Johnston to the Owens family, including the production of high quality lotions, soaps, and candles.

From start to finish, Johnston Honey is a family run, labor of love, southern Minnesota treasure. For a full list of where to find Johnston Honey products and to order them online, visit www.johnstonhoney.com.

Have you ever wanted to try your hand at the art of beekeeping?

Check out The Bee Shed! Armed with their own produced honey and knowledge of the industry, The Bee Shed also has a supply store and holds beekeeping classes. Another cornerstone of The Bee Shed is their passion for pursuing and spreading the knowledge of sustainable production of honey and beekeeping.

Chris Schad and John Shonyo, the owners of The Bee Shed have been active in changing the attitude of landscaping in public places to accommodate bees and other wildlife. They are committed to continue to not only educate themselves, but also the public, about sustainable and natural beekeeping and honey production.

Chris mentioned that The Bee Shed is actively pursuing the “changing attitude towards landscape of public places to accommodate bees and other pollinators”.

If you’re interested in learning more about bee activism, or checking out one of the beekeeping classes offered, be sure to pay a visit to www.thebeeshed.com.

When it comes down to it, there is so much more to the black and yellow pollinators than just their sweet nectar. Bees and other pollinators are instrumental in the growth and sustenance of the southern Minnesota landscape.

If you’re looking for more information on bees in Minnesota, pay a virtual visit to www.beelab.umn.edu. The University of Minnesota Bee Lab is a wealth of information for beekeepers and the public alike, and, if you’re feeling brave, they even offer videos on “Bee Beards”.

If you’re looking to help the cause, the Bee Lab also offers tips for the general public, such as filling green space with native wildflowers that are pollinator friendly and providing bees with the nutrients they need to produce quality honey that we know and love.

For a full list of honey producing operations, as well as some fun facts and uses for honey, check out the Minnesota Grown website at www.minnesotagrown.com/product/honey.


By Justine Krueger

SouthernMinn Scene | editor@southernminnscene.com |
115 5th Street West Northfield, MN 55057