From Passion to Purity: The Beekeeping Journey of Jim VanBeek

Nestled just east of Lowell on M-21, you’ll find a small honey stand that’s become a local favorite. Here, Jim VanBeek, with his wife Nancy by his side, sells pure, homemade honey, sharing the fruits of his labor and love for beekeeping. The journey from inspiration to realization began in an unlikely place.

In 2008, while waiting in his doctor’s office, VanBeek stumbled upon an article about honey that changed his life. The story detailed how honey from China, laden with pesticides or herbicides, was deemed unfit for human consumption in the United States and Australia. This revelation struck a chord with VanBeek, an avid honey lover, who decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I thought, I don’t want to eat that honey,” he recalls. “I wanted my own pure honey.”

VanBeek has been selling honey since the beginning of his beekeeping venture, primarily to friends and family. It wasn’t until last year that he decided to set up a roadside honey stand.

“I thought I’m going to put a honey stand out near the road and see what happens,” he says. The response has been very positive, and now, about a year in, the honey stand has become a staple for local honey enthusiasts.

VanBeek currently manages 26 hives, split between two yards. “When you’re a beekeeper you have to have two yards,” he explains. His wife adds, “So they don’t go back together – bees are interesting, I’ve learned an awful lot.”

VanBeek sources his bees locally, using swarm traps placed in his own yard and those of family members. As spring progresses, hives grow and bees swarm to start new colonies. This natural process, although full of challenges such as pesticides and predators, is managed with care and expertise.

“The bees run the hive,” VanBeek says, explaining that while the queen is essential for survival, it’s the worker bees that decide the fate of each new bee, whether it becomes a worker, drone, or a new queen.

One aspect that sets VanBeek’s honey apart is its purity and the care taken in its production. VanBeek shares his dream of expanding his operation to include a honey shed and maybe selling beekeeping equipment, which can be hard to find. “Next year I’m going to have comb honey – which is honey sold in the wax,” he says, hinting at future plans.

Beekeeping is not without its challenges. VanBeek admits, “I get stung pretty often, just about every time and you never get used to it.” His wife shares that she’s had her own encounters with the bees’ protective behavior in the fall. Despite the occasional sting, VanBeek, has a passion for beekeeping that remains undiminished. When asked about his favorite part, he smiles and says “It’s the bees I love working with, yep, it’s the bees.”

For those interested in beekeeping, VanBeek’s advice is clear: “It has to be a passion. You can’t go into it for the money.” With over a decade of experience, he is just now starting to see a small profit, but the real reward lies in the work itself and the quality of the honey produced.

Honey-making is a fascinating process. Worker bees collect nectar from flowers, store it, and pass it to other bees in the hive. These bees mix the nectar with enzymes, transforming it into honey, which is then stored in honeycomb cells and fanned by the bee’s wings to evaporate water, reaching the perfect consistency.

Harvest time typically occurs at the end of July, with a final push for nectar during the goldenrod season in late summer. Beekeepers like VanBeek extract the honey by spinning the honey-filled frames from the hives, then straining and bottling the honey. Currently, VanBeek sells his honey in various sizes, from 12oz jars to half-gallons.

Honey is a timeless treasure, known for its longevity and health benefits. Good raw honey will crystallize over time but can be easily returned to its liquid form with gentle warming. “Honey is good forever,” VanBeek notes.

The VanBeeks have also embraced social media to connect with their community, with a presence on Facebook under “Mitten State Apiaries.” As he continues to grow his beekeeping business, his dedication to purity, passion, and community shines through every jar of honey sold.

In the world of beekeeping, VanBeek stands out not just for his delicious honey, but for his commitment to quality and deep love for the bees he cares for. From a roadside stand to future dreams of expansion, his journey is a testament to the power of passion and the sweetness of pure, homemade honey.

Editor’s Note: Look for the honey stand on M-21 in the area of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

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