Reno Area Beekeepers Sweeten the Local Food Movement

Chris Foster holds up part of a hive. The Fosters currently have 16 hives in the backyard of their Hidden Valley home.

Chris Foster holds up part of a hive. The Fosters currently have 16 hives in the backyard of their Hidden Valley home.

Walking across the yard, a deep and hypnotic buzzing sound becomes louder with every step. The white boxes ahead are habitats for some of nature’s most fascinating insects. Chris Foster, dressed head to toe in a white protective suit, begins to remove lids off of the hives. As the bees fly out of the top, it becomes clear how many bees are in one hive. They move rapidly. Counting them would be impossible.

“Yeah, they are pretty cool.”

 

Working Bees

Local honey has increased in demand throughout the northern Nevada area over the last decade. Because of the growth in the field, it has become easier to buy honey from local retailers.

“When you think local food, you usually think vegetables and eggs and things like that,” said Chris Foster, co-founder of Hidden Valley Honey. “Honey is definitely an overlooked product that comes out of this area.”

Nevada is home to a variety of beekeepers. They usually fall into one of three categories: Full-time, sideliner (part-time) or hobbyist.

Chris and Karen Foster, founders of Hidden Valley Honey, started their company after a swarm of bees landed in a pine tree by their California home.

“It was solely an edcational opportunity at first,” Karen said. “We cut down the branch it was in and started studying them and learning about how the whole honey process works.”

This graph shows the growth in Nevada Honey farms between 2002-2007. Source: Nevada USDA National Cencus.

This graph shows the growth in Nevada Honey farms between 2002-2007. Source: Nevada USDA National Cencus.

In 2002, Chris took a job opportunity in Reno. The family moved their 8-10 hives to their new home.

“The whole area up here really helps promote the local farming and agriculture movement,” Chris said.

After getting involved with farmers’ markets shortly after coming to Reno, the Fosters began to see their business grow.

“Nevada is really great for local farmers because of the farmer’s markets,” Karen said. “There aren’t as many restrictions like there are in California.”

Local stores started selling the Foster’s brand once the name became more recognized. Hidden Valley Honey is now sold in Whole Foods, the Great Basin Food Co-Op, Raley’s and Scolari’s.

These local brands are available year-round.

“I take the stings and she takes the cash,” Chris said.

Many people get into beekeeping solely for the enjoyment of the insects and the educational aspect of agriculture. Tamara Wood, a local painter, has made beekeeping her new favorite hobby.

“Once you start to learn about bees, you love them,” Wood said.

Click to see local beekeepers in action:

Even as a hobbyist, Wood has seen the growth of beekeepers in the community.

“Ever since I joined the bee club, there have been all kinds of new people getting into it,” Wood said. “It’s crazy how many people are getting into beekeeping these days.”

Wood began beekeeping six years ago and now sells her honey to Moana Nursery. She also gives it to her clients as gifts.

“It’s very labor intensive, especially during the spring,” Wood said. “But it’s so unique and different. I love being a part of it.”

During the warmer months of the year, there can be up to 60,000 bees in one hive.

During the warmer months of the year, there can be up to 60,000 bees in one hive.

 

Home Means Nevada

“A really great thing about bees is that they are very tolerant of climate,” Chris said. “They are all over the place, from Alaska to Mexico. The harsh heat and intense cold we get here doesn’t bother the bees.”

The alfalfa in the area is good for beekeeping but is not in season throughout the winter months. During this time, the Fosters move their hives to the central valley in California, where almond trees help them pollinate.

“In Reno, spring time is when the hives swarm, so we will bring them back here,” Chris said. “We set up the hives in pastures with lots of alfalfa.”

Leonard Joy, current Vice President of the Northern Nevada Beekeeper’s Association, worked as a hive inspector from 1972-1999. Joy travelled from farm to farm checking for diseased hives.

“Eventually the legislature ruled out the need for an inspector,” Joy said. “This built up the number of bee keepers in the area since they didn’t have to pay for this service anymore.”

Joy became a sideliner shortly after that. He currently has 40 plus colonies throughout northern Nevada and participates in farmer’s markets. Retailers also sell his honey during the winter. As vice president of the Beekeeper’s Association, Joy also advises new and returning beekeepers on how to better their hives and bees.

“There are more and more people getting involved in this every year,” Joy said. “I help people keep their bees and advise them on how to maximize honey production.”

Joy has been a part of the beekeeping community for decades and is passionate about what he does.

“These are such fascinating insects,” Joy said. “I love being a part of this community and this line of agriculture.”

Local honey may have more benefits than people think. Studies have shown that consuming locally-produced honey is likely correlated with combatting seasonal allergies.

“When you eat local honey that has the pollen and natural ingredients in it, your immunity is built up against the pollen in the air,” Joy said.

Chris Foster, before making beekeeping his full-time job, worked as a director for molecular biology. He and his daughter Alyssa wrote a paper called “Evidence for the Use of Local Honey for the Relief of Pollen Allergies.” In this article he talked about what evidence there actually is to back this theory.

“Indirect evidence suggests that local honey, containing hyper-allergenic pollens, has therapeutic value for those suffering from local pollen allergies,” Chris said.

 

A Sweet New Business

As one of the larger full-time beekeepers in the area, Chris Foster has seen a shift in the way of the beekeeper.

“Personally, we went from hobby to sideline and finally to full-time,” Chris said. “Within the US there has been a shift and more people are becoming hobbyists. Anyone can do it.”

“Nevada is so great about local farmers and locally grown food,” Karen said. “Everyone who lives here should really take pride in the environment we live in and the things that we produce.”

 

At the Great Basin Food Co-Op, you can find many different brands of local honey. Honey has become an alternative sweetener for many people looking to eat healthier.

At the Great Basin Food Co-Op, you can find many different brands of local honey. Honey has become an alternative sweetener for many people looking to eat healthier.

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