Local farm expands offerings to include candy
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Hethir and Jason Rodriguez know a thing or two about bees — they’ve been keeping them for seven years. When they moved to Steamboat Springs four years ago to start a farm, they named it Bee Grateful Farm.
“Sort of as a funny name and a nod to the bees we have,” Jason explained, “but it was meant to be a vegetable farm all along.”
The couple began growing lettuces and vegetables on one acre of their land, which they sell to local restaurants, as well as at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market each summer and through a 170-member, community-supported agriculture system. But last winter, they got the idea to make candies from local honey, and now, those confections are outselling their vegetables.
“We don’t grow in the winter, and the growing season in Steamboat is short — about three months,” Jason said. “So, we were sitting around one day and decided to make some craft goods to sell alongside the veggies at the Farmers Market.”
Passionate about bees and honey, they dabbled with honey chapstick, balms and candles, but when Jason, who used to be a chef, started experimenting with caramels, he knew he was on to something.
“It was mainly trial and error,” he said, “but I knew that we could sweeten the caramels with only honey.”
And Bee Grateful uses local honey from two beekeepers in Steamboat. When he eventually landed on a successful recipe, he started adding other ingredients, like local lavender and sea salt sourced from Utah.
“With all of the ingredients, we try to stay as close to home as possible,” Jason said.
When they introduced the caramels at their Farmers Market booth last summer, the bags started selling out.
“We knew we were on to something when people started buying five or six bags at a time,” Jason said. “And when the Farmers Market was wrapping up for the season, people were buying multiple bags to make sure they were stocked up for the winter.”
Not wanting to let their customers down, Hethir and Jason rented a commercial kitchen in Phippsburg and hired several employees, so they could continue production.
Now, consumers can find the caramels at a handful of stores around town, as well as in the Vail area. The Ritz Carleton in Bachelor Gulch ordered 300 bags to include in gift bags for guests all winter long. And even caramel lovers outside of Colorado can have a taste by ordering from the Bee Grateful Farm website.
It’s a win-win for the bees, too. Hethir and Jason donate 10% of their proceeds to help build healthy pollinator habitats, free of pesticides.
“Honey bees and other pollinator species are in tremendous decline,” Jason said. “Most research points to pesticides, loss of floral habitat and diversity due to increased land use, disease and parasites as the main causes. As bees perform the majority of pollination of crops, loss of bees equals loss of food.”
For example, he explained, without bees, the entire California almond industry would be wiped out, as bees are responsible for pollinating every almond bud, and there is no other way to do it.
Back at the farm, Jason said they’re thinking about expanding their candy line, but right now, business is booming.
“We’re getting so many orders that we have to stay focused or we’ll go crazy making too many things,” he added.
It’s a sweet problem to have.
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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