By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.
Busy as a bee. If you have observed a hive of bees at work, you know that saying is accurate. It seems bees are always working, going after nectar for the hive. Today we’ll meet a family in rural Kansas that started raising bees and found that the enterprise is keeping them quite busy as well.
Steve and Becky Tipton are the owners of Country Creek Honey near Meriden, Kansas.
Steve is from north Topeka originally. His parents bought a farm near Meriden in 1967. Steve went to Washburn, married Becky, went to work at Goodyear and moved back to the farm. Becky is a teacher at Seaman High School. She has always been interested in bees and had read lots of bee journals, but hadn’t tried raising bees.
One day in late 1988, Steve went to a farm store in Emporia to pick up a part for a tractor. Steve said, “It was three days before Christmas, and the store had a sign that said, ‘Beginning beekeeper kits – everything you need to get started.’” He said to himself, “Yes! My Christmas shopping is done.”
Now isn’t that a guy’s dream – to Christmas shop for his wife at the farm store? Anyway, Steve bought that beekeeper kit and gave it to Becky. They soon bought two hives of bees and have raised bees ever since.
When Steve retired from Goodyear, he took over the beekeeping. Today, their business is known as Country Creek Honey.
Steve says with a smile, “This has grown into a hobby well out of control.” The Tiptons own 100 hives. At 60,000 to 80,000 bees per hive, that means that the Tiptons could have some 8 million bees. As amazing as that sounds, Steve says it pales in comparison to some commercial operations in California.
“There are some California operators with a thousand hives, where they use the bees to pollinate fruit and almond orchards,” he says.
Steve and Becky are self-taught beekeepers, and now they share their expertise with others. They teach in the master beekeeper program at the University of Nebraska (directed by Dr. Marion Ellis), do seminars for the Kansas Honey Producers, and teach beginning beekeeping classes locally. Becky has represented Kansas on committees of the National Honey Board.
Steve says, “One of the things we learned was to promote anything that comes out of the hive.” In other words, the honey has value, but other related products such as beeswax can have value as well.
The Tiptons took this advice to heart. They market an amazing variety of products and flavors. For example, they offer lip balm, soap leaves, beeswax lotion, liquid soap, natural insect repellent, and – oh yeah – honey.
All these products are made by the Tiptons themselves from honey or beeswax from their hives, with added flavors like raspberry cream, cinnamon, blackberry, wildflower, and jalapeno. The soaps come in flavors like honey lemon sunshine scrub, bee clean shampoo and body bar, drone scrub, bees in the garden, buzzy face, honey herb, cranberry bumble, pollen pleasure, honey rose, and many more. There is even a baby bee extremely mild soap.
In addition to the soap and lotion bars, there are soap leaves, flavored honey stix, and a natural insect repellent called Buzz Off. All these products are sold at farmers’ markets, festivals, and craft fairs. One passerby at the Topeka farmers market described Steve as “the best bee person alive.”
Becky teaches soapmaking and Steve gives talks to schools and garden clubs. They have gone to honey group meetings in locations from Texas to Delaware, but after those meetings, they return to their rural community of Meriden, Kansas, population 701 people. Now, that’s rural. How exciting to find these entrepreneurs of bees in rural Kansas.
Busy as a bee. Just as bees stay busy in the field and in the hive, so Steve and Becky stay busy at promoting honey and related products. We commend the Tiptons for making a difference with their honey production and marketing. This type of agricultural entrepreneurship can help rural communities bee all that they can bee.
The mission of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is to enhance rural development by helping rural people help themselves. The Kansas Profile radio series and columns are produced with assistance from the K-State Research and Extension Department of Communications News Unit. A photo of Ron Wilson is available at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/news/sty/RonWilson.htm. Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/huckboyd/.