As I photographed, the threatening hum of the buzzing bees around my netted head gave me a new appreciation for the intense passion and commitment a beekeeper must have to tend to their colonies of bees. Maybe it’s in the bloodline, as with Brent Edelen of Grampa’s Gourmet Honey, a sixth generation beekeeper based in Alamosa, Colorado. As a boy, he despised the summers of hard work and the threat of bee stings while on his grandfather’s honey farm. But after college, the family business called him back. He bought 150 hives (60-80,000 bees in each hive) to start his own label. Brent now has over 500 colonies and has named the business after Grampa, his Swiss born great grandfather.
Grampa’s Honey bees produce an impressive variety of honeys that are all terroir-driven. In spring and summer he settles his bee yards in the brush country of Colorado’s San Luis Valley and Northern New Mexico ranches where they live and pollinate the chamiso, stat thistle, tamarisk blossoms, and Dutch clover. In the winter months, Brent trucks his hives to the Texas Hill Country where the flavors of the pollen from desert wildflowers and mesquite infuse his honeys. The bees do best when working on older cattle ranches where they benefit from inefficient weed control and no pesticide use. Sustainable agriculture and beekeeping go hand in hand this way. In exchange for the use of land, Brent provides the ranchers with 24 pint jars of honey a year. He likes to do it the old fashioned way
Brent confirms a well-established reverence for bees among those who understand that “bees are the missing link between man and nature.” Bees pollinate most of our food supply and serve as nature’s “canary in a coal mine” with their ability to indicate through honey production and colony survival what goes on from season to season when plants struggle or thrive. And the converse is true. When bees struggle with diseases, chemicals or parasites, the plants show it.
It is with great hope that Brent can one day pass the beekeeper’s netted suit, smoker, and family legacy on to his eldest daughter. But for now, he will be the one to care for the swarms with their boxes of liquid gold.