In 1994, Brian Fredericksen bought an orchard near Watertown, Minnesota. He bought it not to farm apples, or honey, as one might suspect--but to use as land on which to dogsled. A 3M engineer at the time, Brian thought the property would be the perfect place to exercise his hobbies. He had a vision of one day turning the land into a food farm, and when he became worried he would kill one of the two beehives that came with the property, he began to teach himself about beekeeping. In 2001, Brian quit his job at 3M and began spending his days turning Ames Farm into what it is today--one of the premier honey farms in the United States.
Today, you can find Ames Farm honey in many Midwest retailers, as well as a large smattering of shops across the country. I asked Brian what factors he thinks were most helpful in growing his small, Minnesota start-up into a nationally successful company. "Co-ops," he immediately replied. "Minnesota has more co-ops than anywhere else. They're really unique to the Upper Midwest in many ways. I'd attribute a lot of my success to being able to get my product into all the co-ops, and farmers' markets, too." Check out the map of where to find Ames honey here.
Ames is well-known for procuring "single source" honey, meaning that each batch of honey comes from one of their 40 pound boxes of 9 combs, during one time period. "Other companies normally draw their honey from a larger pool over a longer period of time. I'm instead selling a seasonal floral snapshot from one hive. It may not be honey from a single flower, but it is from a single period in time."
Such attention to detail and quality doesn't come without a lot of hard work, though. "It takes us 4 months to process 400,000 pounds of honey. A commercial honey maker could process that amount in 5 weeks." But Brian and his crew at Ames, being the progressive that they are, are always coming up with new ways to advance their business and overcome challenges. Brian just recently got the required loan to build a new, two-story, old-style production building, which will greatly increase production capabilities and is incredibly energy efficient. Additionally, Ames will begin to focus more on "renting" hives out, meaning anyone who would like to install a hive on their property can, and Ames will lend the equipment and skills needed to ensure the hive is successful. They will also transport the bees with their own to Texas for the colder months. "Beekeeping doesn't just have to be done by some guy with a piece of hay in his mouth," explained Brian. "Every year hundreds of beekeepers will try to keep bees but maybe 80 percent will lose their hives due to lack of experience or finances. Renting, for those who can afford it, is becoming the sustainable solution."
One unique shop at which you can locate Ames Farm honey is the Grassroots Gourmet booth in the Midtown Global Market--this is the business Brian nominated for my next post. "They sell only Minnesota-made products. It's a great local shop, and I encourage anyone I can to support Vicki (the owner) whenever I can." Stay tuned for an inside look at the shop!