Wild Bear Bee Farm Puts Purpose and the Flavor of Place into Honey Jars
What is goodness?
Pondering this question, the honey-making family behind Wild Bear Bee Farm in Snowmass recently presented to the Cornerstone Classical School in Basalt. Co-owner Chris Stoner looked to scripture for answers. For her, the Bible’s teachings “show that God cares about how we behave. He expects us to be good stewards of His creation.” Indeed, her family business has worked hard to uphold this expectation.
The Stoner family’s life on a cattle ranch near St. Benedict’s Monastery at 8,400 feet means living in concert with the earth and all of God’s creatures. To be good stewards of the interlaced land, flora, and fauna is a moral enterprise. Both the monastery and ranch are herbicide and pesticide-free. The Stoners slay noxious weeds mechanically, recognizing that most are in fact critical forage. They also manage predators—ferocious wasps, hungry bears, mites—humanely.
“We monitor our hives weekly,” Stoner explains. “If we see even three mites in a sample, we can act preventatively, instead of using a miticide.” Despite the biblical connotations of a name like Stoner, each family member works with a gentle hand.
Wild Bear Bee Farm is a small family-run business. “I don’t want to expand; I want it to stay local. I don’t want it to take over,” Stoner says. The family manages more than 200 hives with 30,000-60,000 bees each, on farms and ranches from Emma to Aspen. With a staff of approximately six million worker bees, Stoner jokes that she is the largest employer in the valley! And with phenological waves of native flora acting as the secret behind regional flavor, Wild Bear Bee Farm hopes to produce a superior product. Stoner reports:
- It’s unheated. “This is the most important quality of our honey. Unheated honey retains all of the nutrients and enzymes that the bees add to the honey. Don’t nuke it,” she admonishes. “Otherwise, it’s just another sweetener.”
- It’s unfiltered. “Allowing more pollen to stay in the honey makes the honey healthier.”
- It’s raw. “Pure honey straight from the hive. Nothing added—ever.”
Wild Bear bottles four distinct honeys, reflecting the spirit of place inherent to each. Emma offers the flavor of a barrel-chested stout akin to molasses, and Basalt and Aspen produce more familiar, mellow amber honeys. Hives near St. Benedict’s give rise to what the family deems “holy honey,” Stoner says, a nearly clear, delicate variety that some might consider to be ambrosia.
In addition to honey, Wild Bear Bee Farm harvests pollen and propolis, believed by many natural healers to have beneficial health properties. The company also handcrafts lip balm and beeswax candles. Products can be found at the Aspen and Basalt farmers markets, small local shops, and at WildBearBeeFarm.com.