The payback of buying Beehive-state-born goods reaches further than most people realize. Supporting a local food culture benefits the environment, boosts the state’s economy, and brings better quality to your plate.
Here are the stories of three locally grown food companies whose tasty products belong in your kitchen.
The bee population in Highland rose soon after Brent Smith’s wife bought him the book “Beekeeping for Dummies.” Because their garden wasn’t being pollinated as it should, Brent purchased his first beehive in 2001.
“It was an instant addiction,” Brent says. “It’s called bee fever.”
Two years later neighbor Larry Jones caught the buzz and installed two hives in his own yard. Mark Ellingson was the third to join — after years of attempting to convince his wife that it would be a fun, yet safe hobby.
“Her concern was that we would have bees all over the yard, and no one would be able to go barefoot,” Mark says. “The day she said ‘OK,’ we put in a hive. Then we put in another. Now I’ve got eight.”
Grant Ellingson became the fourth neighborhood beekeeper last year when he added six hives to his yard.
And then, like bees to honey, other neighbors in Highland became interested in the perks of beekeeping — pollination to help their trees and gardens, and pure, raw, local honey to replace the pasteurized versions they’d get at the grocery store.
“We found that people didn’t really want to do it all themselves, so we came up with a business plan to provide a service,” Grant says. “If you let us put hives in your yard, you get the benefit of the pollination and some of the honey.”
In 2007 the group incorporated their company as Neighborhood Beekeeping, and in 2008 Brent, Larry, Mark and Grant stayed busy caring for more than 150 hives spread across dozens of local yards.
“And that’s the premise of our company,” Larry says. “We’re not getting rich off this. The plan is really to help neighbors.”
To cover costs of hives, bees and materials, Neighborhood Beekeeping sells what they refer to as nature’s purest product — honey.
“The thing that intrigues me about this is that it’s something pure and natural,” Grant says. “It’s something real we produce — the bees produce. In this day and age, that’s very satisfying. You can’t get any purer than honey and beeswax.”
And the sticky-sweet golden honey is more than just another topping for your toast — it’s nature’s original antibiotic. A powerful immune system booster, honey is also known to prevent allergies. For many, it’s a delicious and natural alternative to white sugar.
“The initial reason people buy our honey is because it tastes good,” Mark says. “But we’re in a very health conscious society, so more and more people are getting it for all the health benefits.”
For now, Neighborhood Beekeeping’s honey — as well as their all-natural, beeswax-based hand and lip balm — is available at their online store, www.neighborhoodbeekeeping.com, but they plan to move into local grocery and health food stores after this year’s honey spin.
And no matter which direction the business heads, Brent, Larry, Mark and Grant will stay busy caring for the neighborhood bees and passing the hobby on to their neighbors.
“You don’t even have to hype it up,” Grant says. “It speaks for itself. I still remember the first time I put on the bee suit and got into the beehive — it’s like going into a different world.”
What the doctor ordered
When Joyce Bunderson’s husband, Victor, was diagnosed with diabetes, she knew it was time to put her education to work. As a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate in public administration, Joyce decided to go with the grain.
“I was very motivated for him to not be sick with the effects of diabetes,” Joyce says. “A lot of people think that means not eating so much sugar, but it’s a lifestyle change. Part of that change was switching over to whole grains.”
When Victor’s blood glucose soon came within a healthy range, the doctor mentioned his wish for Joyce to work the same powers on other patients. From there, an idea was born.
“It just came to me that I was going to start a company,” Joyce says. “We know that whole grains help people decrease the risk of getting diabetes, heart problems and cancer. I was in a unique position where I had learned to use whole wheat decades before, and I knew how to make it taste great.”
So three years ago Joyce started her Provo-based company and named it Dr. Grandma’s — “I have a doctorate and I have 32 grandchildren,” she says. Then she began creating foods that follow her byline, “Good health can be yummy.”
Dr. Grandma’s now sells two main products — Pancake & Waffle Mix and Muffins Your Way Mix. Both use 100 percent whole organic hard red spring wheat, Dr. Grandma’s all-natural calorie-free sweetener (made of natural fruit extracts), and Dr. Grandma’s mild extra virgin olive oil.
“This is for people who realize there are important lifetime benefits to whole wheat, but they don’t really like grinding the wheat and measuring out all the ingredients,” Joyce says. “I know a widower who has diabetes and he makes it for himself. I have a number of people who have children who ask for it all the time — there are no preservatives, no junk, so it’s all simple ingredients. Another lady I know is a city attorney for Provo and she loves it — when she’s in a hurry she makes the packages for dinner.”
About a year ago, Joyce saw another need.
“We Americans are used to a sweet taste, and a lot of people need the sweetener but don’t want to use NutraSweet or Splenda,” Joyce says. “So I did some research to find out what kinds of fruit extracts I could use.”
The result of Joyce’s food science research is Delight, a natural, zero-calorie sweetener made primarily with erythritol, which is found in apples and pears, as well as other fruits and vegetables. Delight can be used in place of sugar for cooking and baking.
“All of our products are made only with Delight, so one muffin is only 80 calories,” Joyce says. “It’s a delicious, healthy thing.”
Dr. Grandma’s products are available nearly everywhere groceries are sold in Utah, including Good Earth, Kohler’s, Harmon’s, Macey’s and Whole Foods.
“I never had plans of having a food company, but I felt like I needed to help people know you can eat healthy foods and you don’t have to be a slave to white flour and sugar,” Joyce says. “I wanted to do this business as a give-back to society. Our business is largely educational — it’s about how to be well-nourished. I feel like I’m doing some little thing that can help people move in the right direction.”
Wayne Parke’s grandmother lived by the philosophy that if you didn’t grow food and can it during the summer, you didn’t eat in the winter. A descendant of the valley’s pioneers, she used jam and jelly recipes passed down from Utah’s first settlers.
“After her passing I made jam as a hobby, out of nostalgia,” Wayne says. “I always made more than enough to give away, and people would say, ‘You should sell this.’”
Wayne, an Orem resident, left his government service job with thoughts of starting his own business, and in 2003 he launched Pioneer Valley, selling fancy jams, jellies and syrups, made just the way the pioneers made them.
“I started with the old pioneer family recipes, then updated and standardized them so I get the perfect product every time,” Wayne says.
And Wayne makes sure he’s getting the perfect product — he creates the jams, jellies and syrups himself. On an average Monday, Wayne begins with administrative work in his Orem office at 7 a.m., then food production from 9 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m.
With requests for his products coming from grocery stores, online customers, and specialty shops nationwide, Wayne follows that production schedule three or four days each week — any less than that and he’s falling behind, he says.
“The food business is a very hard, competitive business,” Wayne says. “Since 99 percent of new food products fail within the first year, you have to have a really good product. You can have the prettiest packaging in the world, but if it’s not equally good inside people won’t pick it up twice.”
Wayne’s tried-and-true recipes ensure that his customers stay faithful to the hearty, rich flavors of Pioneer Valley’s homemade-tasting goods. One particularly popular jam flavor, apricot honey almond, boasts one of the oldest recipes in the Pioneer Valley repertoire.
“The pioneers came to the valley 20 years before they had refined sugar, so they would use the natural pectin in apricot skins,” Wayne says. “And in the heirloom varieties of apricots you could eat the nut inside the pit — it’s part of the almond family. The pioneers didn’t waste anything, so they’d use the little sugar they had, plus honey, then they’d add the almond pit back in, hence apricot honey almond jam.”
Keeping with Pioneer Valley’s homemade heritage theme, Wayne recently expanded his product line to include Lawford’s Private Reserve gourmet cream syrups — named for his great grandfather Lawford. Wayne says very few people have tasted cream syrups before, but his flavors of maple cream, coconut cream and cinnamon cream are quickly becoming popular as toppings for pancakes, ice cream sundaes, fruit salads and crepes.
But whether it’s syrup, jams or jellies, Wayne happily measures his success according to the favorable feedback he receives.
“We were at a farmers market a few weeks ago sampling out our jams,” Wayne says. “We had a young girl come up and say nothing could ever compare to her grandma’s strawberry rhubarb jam, since homemade by grandma is always the best. She tried a sample and literally broke down crying, saying, ‘This is just like what my grandma made. She died last year and I thought I couldn’t get her jam anymore.’ It was such a nice compliment.”
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