There is something incredibly romantic about making a living out on the land.
Fresh air, gorgeous scenery…and in this case, all the thick delicious honey you can eat. But in reality, we know how much work goes into these small agricultural businesses and how extremely delicate they can become due to weather, disease and a dizzying number of other variables out of anyone’s control. Farming is a labor of love, and there is no question that Old Blue Raw Honey is creating top line liquid gold with incredible passion.
In a market that’s seemingly difficult to evoke surprise, they are creating unique one of a kind honeys from innovative nectar sources (hello blackberry & poison oak !) and a sense of contagious pride that makes you feel like one of the team while supporting their small batch company. We talk to the Bee Keeper Henry Storch’s wife and manger of operations, Camille, to learn more about where the Old Blue name comes from, how dukkah pairs best with their clary sage varietal and how the business of honey might get a little sticky at times, but always stays sweet in their heart.
Farm: Old Blue Raw Honey
Location: Wren, Oregon & Sacramento Valley, CA
Tell us a little about how honey became your business and what the significance of the name Old Blue Raw Honey & branding stemmed from.
Henry’s been keeping bees at least as a hobby for nine years, but about three years ago, he scaled up his operation to +/-300 hives and really committed to doing beekeeping as a business. Old Blue is the name of a mountain in the Oregon Coast Range near several of our apiary locations. It has really interesting ecology and is populated with some rare wildflowers. Paying tribute to an older generation of folks in the Coast Range who either had bees themselves or had a neighbor who did has always been fundamental to our business, so we thought using a feature of the local landscape for our name would be a good way to do just that.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from running your own small business? What advice would you give to others looking to take the leap?
If you screw something up, acknowledge it, make up for it, learn from it, and try to do better next time.
Understanding the opportunity cost of your time and resources is also hugely important. Learn what makes money for your business and what makes you happy, and then do your best to de-prioritize or outsource everything else that you don’t really have time to do personally.
What are the daily challenges and rewards working with bees? Any good stories from the field?
The challenges of beekeeping are many: disease, parasites, heavy lifting, lots of driving on crummy country roads, bears, complaining neighbors, cash flow, lack of infrastructure, bad weather, pesticides, hive theft, and vandalism to name just a few. Coming up with new strategies to deal with these challenges, and having those strategies work is super satisfying and keeps us engaged and optimistic.
Every time Henry encounters kids in his work, he’ll let them poke a finger into some fresh honeycomb, or he’ll send a jar of honey home with their parents. Kids love this, of course, and more than a few times, they’ve confused “Henry” with “Honey”. In our family, we’ve just embraced that Freudian slip, so now Henry is “Uncle Honey” to our niece and nephew.
You have some VERY unique nectar profiles in your honey line (Blackberry and POISON-OAK!?) Tell us where this inspiration comes from and what the process is like from initial concept to bottling product.
Our honey is never flavored or infused with any added ingredients, so all the character comes from the nectar sources that the bees are bringing in at the time of honey production. We think folks appreciate having access to limited releases of more rare wildflower varietal honeys with interesting flavors, so we harvest and extract many small batches over the course of the spring and summer and keep them all separate. To give you a sense of scale, we collected about four buckets of poison-oak & chittum honey last summer, but we also collected about 80 buckets of mostly blackberry honey.
What’s your favorite way to use your honey in a meal? Any surprising pairings we should know about?
I do a lot of canning every summer, and a few years back, I switched to using only honey in my jams. My favorite is mixed berry with about 12 cups of fruit (strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, wild blackberries, etc.) and only two cups of honey. It’s like eating summer right out of the jar.
The farmer who grows the clary sage, providing nectar for our clary sage honey also manages several hazelnut orchards. I’ve tried them every possible way, but one of my favorite things is dukkah, a blend of crushed nuts, seeds, and spices. I make dukkah with roasted hazelnuts, toasted sesame seeds, coriander, cumin, and salt. It’s great on savory foods like eggs or roasted vegetables, but my all-time favorite thing is to sprinkle it over vanilla ice cream and then top it with honeyed plums. It’s the perfect blend of creamy, crunchy, salty, spicy, sweet, and tangy.
What’s next? Any dream collaborations or new products that you’d like to work on this year?
Henry often collaborates with other beekeepers in his extensive honeybee breeding and selection program. This doesn’t have much of an effect on consumers, but his quest to produce bees with better Northwest-adapted genetics is key to the viability of our business. Because this goal is in everyone’s best interest, Henry regularly communicates with other beekeepers like Todd Parsons, Jacob Kenfield, and Jose and swaps queens with them to strengthen the genetic diversity of his colonies.
We’re excited to partner with a few more restaurants, bars, and bakeries in the Portland area this year that would like to support local beekeepers.
Looking to add a little sweetness to your life? Head on over to Old Blue Raw Honey’s online shop and get yourself (and your friends) a few different a try and be sure to keep tabs on their instagram to see what’s going on behind the hives.
Farm photos courtesy of Old Blue Raw Honey