Visit the LeRoy Independent website
July 03, 2008
SMALL TOWN BUSINESS
Bendel family as Bee Keepers extend family business with bee by-products
|Jordan and Jody Bendel of rural LeRoy are pictured with their children, Lilah, in Jody?s arms, Cullen and Ava, in front of their Sweet Prairie Farm truck and a display of their bee products including a newly made wooden hive.|
LEROY, Minnesota (STPNS) -- Bee keeping is an intense and interesting business!
Jordan and Jody Bendel of rural LeRoy found time recently to talk about their family business, Sweet Prairie Farm, and about making and selling gourmet honey and body care products made from the honey and beeswax they obtain from their 150 hives of bees. Earlier this spring, Jordan had been in Texas to get the hives and since then he's been mighty busy getting his hives settled for the summer season.
This young couple, who moved to the LeRoy area four years ago when they purchased the house and acreage once belonging to Gladine Eastvold, west of LeRoy on Highway 56, maintain a busy schedule keeping up with their young family of three children as well as the bees and Jordon's full time job at Mayo Clinic. Besides being in the business of being an at-home mom, Jody has been researching and designing products to complement the honey and beeswax. This is just one part of their family business.
And when they say family business, it also includes Jordan's brother, Josh and his wife Brenda, who live on a farm near Westby, Wisconsin, where Jordan and his wife moved from when they came to Minnesota. Josh has 50 hives, but it's on his farm where the wooden hives are made and sold, as another part of the family business. Then, the combined families also sell bee products such as those needed for people to go into the bee-raising business. To all of this, the Bendels keep in mind the "value added" of each of their products and the hope that they can educate as many people as possible about the necessity for raising hives of healthy bees. One-third of everything we eat has to be pollinated by honey bees.
The nicest part of this whole story is the fact that Jordan and Jody both grew up in the bee-raising business, and it's a good thing!
Because, as they tell it, it takes a lot of understanding to be married to a bee keeper! Jody understands that Jordan's life is consumed with bee keeping duties from early spring and into the summer months, along with his full-time job at Mayo doing lab management work. And he knows she's kept plenty busy with the twins, Cullen and Ava, aged three, and Lilah, one year, and coming up with ideas for the business as well as researching, designing, and making the bee products to sell.
They met when in high school while at bee association meetings, but didn't start dating until they both were in college, at the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse. He obtained his degree in micro biology and chemistry and she went for political science.
Bee keeping goes back generations in both families, Jordan's grandfather being his closest mentor in learning the beekeeping business, and Jody went to bee meetings with her family as long as she can remember, the family always raising bees.
The couple over in Wisconsin, Josh and Brenda, maintain as busy a lifestyle as their partners in Minnesota. Josh is a mechanical engineer for Trane Co. in LaCrosse, having graduated from Western Wisconsin Technical School, and Brenda is a salesperson for Zerox, her territory being southwestern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota, over as far as Austin. And would you believe that Josh and Brenda also have three children, Grace, 5, and twins, Lucas and Chase, 2 years. It just happened that way, they say, there's no explanation since twins do not run in the any of the family's background.
The two brothers market their products in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, but keep the honey line separate: the honey gathered in Wisconsin is sold in Wisconsin, and the same for Minnesota honey, keeping the raw honey for sale in the same area from which it was gathered by the bees.
Sweet Prairie Farm's line of gourmet honey and body care products include Wildflower blend liquid honey in various containers, 8 oz. thru 24 oz. squeeze bottle; raw wildflower honey in 12 oz glass jars; honey cremes which are flavored with organic ingredients, such as honey with apricot, blueberry, cherry, pecan or apple cinnamon. These come in 8 and 12 oz sizes. Sweet bee lip balm comes in very small tins and there are also sweet bee lotion bars in two sizes as well as sweet bee soap.
All these products are marketed single or in cases.
The flyer tells the customer that "Our honeybees are the inspiration behind everything at Sweet Prairie Farm. When you spend as much time with the bees as we do, you learn to appreciate how the excellence of a product is enhanced when you make it in small, handmade batches using only the finest natural ingredients." It goes on to say that the gourmet liquid and raw wildflower blend honey is simply bottled fresh, true to the way the bees intended it. In the body care lines, only the best oils where chosen to blend with the company's signature beeswax and a touch of honey.
Describing the bee business, Jordon says the bees need attention from mid-April to November when the hives are then transported to Texas where they are kept over the winter months. He and his brother take the hives to the northeastern part of Texas. Jordan also makes several trips to feed the hives with sugar syrup and pollen patties so the bees can grow. Another trip is made to split the hives into colonies and add new queens to each new colony. Then the trip is made to bring back the hives to Minnesota and Wisconsin. He has a flat-bed truck to carry the hives as well as a loader to lift the hives. Beekeeping is very hard work, Jordan explains, and that's why not too many people go into the business.
The Bendels are concerned about the future of bees and what it holds for them as bee keepers. Bees, Jordan said, are very sensitive and must be handled carefully so as not to stress them. The trips to and from Texas are very stressful, he said, and that is why they are looking into research being done to grow stronger bees which could winter in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Experimenting with bees grown in Canada has provided good research and has "given us a lot of good ideas" about raising healthy, strong bees. The future is unknown, he said, but it keeps changing and getting better.
That is why the Bendels have diversified, making products which can be produced on their own. Jordan said that the two brothers hope to someday own 1000 hives each which can be placed in various areas needing the honey bees to pollinate, such as in the cranberry bogs and other sites. Right now, most of the bee hives have been placed near orchards and in areas where the bees are needed.
The Bendels are enjoying their life on the 22 acres, raising a big garden and hoping to add free-range chickens for eggs and broilers. They are interested in types of seeds and have added Heirloom tomato plants to their garden inventory. Jordan says there's no comparison between these tomatoes and the hybrids that are mainly grown now.
It was a joy to visit with this young couple, even while they kept an eye on their little ones. It was good to exchange thoughts on the environment and listen to what they had to say about the future. They also were so appreciative of all the help given them by other beekeepers and neighbors since they've been in Minnesota. Remember the name: Sweet Prairie Farm.
© 2013 LeRoy Independent
LeRoy, Minnesota. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from STPNS