Beekman & Beekman Gourmet Honey and Honey Wine: Ann, Bruce, Zak, and Matt Beekman
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|Products:||Honey, honey wine, almonds, lavender, and lavender products|
|Employees:||Ann, Bruce, and their sons Matt and Zak, and 3 seasonal employees|
|Primary Sales Outlets:||
|Contact Information:||Ann Beekman
Beekman & Beekman Gourmet Honey and Honey Wine
5236 Geer Road
Hughson, California 95326
Phone: 209-667-5812 or 209 669-6323 (Tasting Room)
In 1913, the Foote family started farming alfalfa and keeping a small dairy in Hughson, California. On a family trip to Willsboro, New York, young Laura Belle Foote met Jack Beekman. Jack later moved to California to make his life with Laura Belle. After they both finished college, they married and continued farming together. Then, in 1929, a friend asked Jack to take some bees out of the engine of his Model A. Jack taught himself how to work with the bees and the Beekman’s beekeeping business was born. Now, almost 100 years later, Jack’s son Bruce, his wife Ann, and their sons Matt and Zak—the third generation of Beekman beekeepers—have made the family business more diverse and successful than ever.
Bruce owns Beekman Apiaries and farms almonds and lavender adjacent to the old Beekman ranch. Ann established Beekman & Beekman Gourmet Honey in 1997 and then opened the Beekman & Beekman Winery in partnership with Matt in 2000. Matt also owns California Apiaries, his own pollination business, and Zak plays a key role in the farming and honey order fulfillment aspects of the operation.
The Beekmans have several thousand beehives all over California—from Butte County in the north to Orange County in the south—that pollinate or produce honey from lavender, alfalfa, melons, sage, oranges, almonds, cherries, and apples. The pure varietal honey produced by the Beekmans is extracted at the ranch just as it has been for decades. They offer a wide range of products, including several varieties of honey and honey wine (or “mead”). Matt makes three kinds of honey wine—Blackberry, Tupelo, and California Orange Blossom—that vary in taste and alcohol content. The Blackberry honey wine has a wonderful floral component while the Tupelo has unique elements of clove and nutmeg. The honey wines are barrel fermented in a combination of new and used French oak barrels and aged sur lie (“aged on the yeast”) for a distinctive flavor.
The Beekmans’ lavender, certified organic through California Certified Organic Farmers, is the star of their annual lavender “Celebration of Bloom and Harvest” festival. Bunches of fragrant lavender are freshly picked for visitors while they view how the herb is processed into oil. Since their tasting room opened, three local women have stopped in and offered to create additional products with their lavender. These neighbors now make lip balm, lotion, and soap—including goats milk, glycerin, and lavender varieties—that the Beekmans sell in their tasting room and at their website (www.beekmanandbeekman.com). Ann is also developing their own line of lavender oils, linen water, and other lavender and honey products.
The Beekmans sell their honey—including the rare and flavorful California Sage variety—in bulk to wholesalers who often blend it with other sources of honey for consistency of color and taste. To maintain the pure varietal nature and flavor of their honeys and to offer customers a gourmet honey, Ann established Beekman & Beekman Gourmet Honey and opened the tasting room at their ranch. Beekman & Beekman honey is unblended, pure varietal honey that is taken from the beehive soon after its production by Beekman bees. Never filtered or flash-heated, Beekman & Beekman honey is the purest essence of the nectar source. In addition to their own honey, Ann also buys unique varieties of honey not produced in California, including the rare Florida Tupelo honey, for the Beekman & Beekman line of honey and wine.
Since the tasting room opened in June 2001, the Beekmans have been able to sell pure varietals of honey directly to their customers, maintain a high level of quality, and get a better price for their products than in the wholesale market. They designed eye-catching, professional labels that communicated the gourmet quality of their products. Now customers stop into the tasting room from 11 to 5 on Saturdays and 1 to 5 on Sundays year round (except for holidays and the month of January) to taste each variety of honey and honey wine and shop for soaps, lotions, and other gifts. Ann is on hand to explain the differences between the varieties of honey and honey wine, share stories about their family’s history, and answer questions about beekeeping and cooking. Now Beekman & Beekman’s sales are almost evenly divided between the wholesale market and their tasting room.
The portion of their business from pollination through Beekman Apiaries and from their gourmet honey through Beekman & Beekman varies by each year. Pollination is an important part of the Beekman’s overall family business, in addition to California agriculture in general. The honey varies from year to year depending on the weather, the health of the bees, and the availability of locations for the bees to produce high-quality honey.
After they heard that customers who had purchased their honey in gourmet stores like Dean & Deluca were looking for a way to buy it on the internet, they worked with someone to develop and monitor their own website (www.beekmanandbeekman.com). Sales from their website have been increasing, but Ann sees it primarily as a way to educate consumers about honey and honey wine and share information about their products and the tasting room.
Beekman & Beekman has enjoyed a great deal of publicity. They’ve been featured on television shows like California Heartland and California Country. Matt has also done cooking demonstrations at COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in Napa, California, that pair their honey wine with delicious dishes. Thanks to an article in the Modesto Bee, they had a fantastic turn-out for their first annual lavender festival last year. This year they have limited their publicity to local venues to keep the number of festival visitors manageable.
The Beekmans have been active members of the California State Beekeepers Association, the American Beekeeping Federation, and the National Honey Board. The Honey Board has also designed great educational materials, including a website with recipes and a honey locator that allows visitors to search by a honey’s floral source and supplier. They have also appeared in the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau’s Harvest Trails paper that advertises roadside stands and tasting rooms.
Ann named two significant challenges for their business.
1. Dealing with the difficulties of beekeeping. Ann has found that beekeeping is one of the most labor intensive, stressful jobs in agriculture. Typically the Beekmans travel four to six hours just to get to an apiary (bee yard) to take care of their bees. Then the bees must be moved at night to accommodate the wide range of locations that the beekeepers must travel and inspected regularly. It is extremely difficult to keep bees healthy and alive between the flowering of crops. They must be located in a place to feed the hive and find pollen and nectar. In addition, one of the most significant problems facing the industry is the theft of hives. Hives are left out in fields and unprotected, but they cannot be insured. Fifteen hives had recently been stolen from their farm. The Beekmans encourage the land owners and farmers where their hives are located to be alert for suspicious activities near the hives.
2. Labor issues. Beekman & Beekman is family-owned and -operated, but they do hire a few additional temporary workers at certain times of the year. Often it is difficult for them to find reliable, hard-working employees. One person has worked for them for awhile, but the others seem to come and go. They usually hire workers from nearby farms for some small tasks, like cutting the lavender. They know that beekeeping is very hard work, but they wish it were easier to find employees.
Think through your business plan carefully. As you develop a business plan, Ann recommends that you clearly identify what concept your business and product will present, what markets you will pursue, and what service you will provide to your customers. Find opportunities to both market your product and educate consumers about what you do. Above all it is necessary to demonstrate the passion you have for your business and the product you produce. Don't be afraid to share what it takes to get an agricultural commodity to the consumer. People want to understand and are looking for a connection to the land and those that provide food for them.
Beekman & Beekman
California Certified Organic Farmers
The Honey Experts
National Honey Board
Stanislaus County Farm Bureau’s Harvest Trails Paper