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Honey Buzz

Producing honey for going on 50 years, Mike and Angelika Curtis' Eagle Point farm now has a sweet spot for sales.

The couple's Wild Bee Honey Farm opened the doors of its Oregon Bee Store last month but has more plans for stocking it with organic produce grown on the property. A new strawberry patch due for planting next week in front of the store will be ready for U-pickers later this summer.

"It's always gonna get bigger and bigger," says Angelika Curtis.

Fashioned from an old farm stand, the store boasts original pole-barn ceiling beams juxtaposed against shiny, new corrugated steel. The inventory is small, with more shelves and cases due to showcase a variety of farm goods. Front and center are jars and vials of honey, as well as handmade beeswax candles.

The merits of local, raw honey have become more recognized in health and gourmet circles, says Mike Curtis. Wild Bee Honey retains traces of beeswax and pollen while many commercial brands have been filtered, pasteurized, even diluted with water, says Curtis. Unbeknownst to many consumers, he adds, much of the country's honey comes from China.

Oregon Bee Store does sell a bit of honey produced in neighboring states and packed into honey sticks, and Angelika Curtis mingles other beekeepers' wax in her candles. But Wild Bee's 400 to 500 hives generate more than 12,500 pounds of honey annually, says Mike Curtis.

Food 4 Less, Ashland Food Co-op, Big R and Grange Coop stores stock Wild Bee Honey, and the Curtises are vendors at Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market, which accounts for about half the farm's income, says Mike Curtis.

Often selling out in just a couple of hours, strawberries are Wild Bee's other signature item. The Curtises specialize in ever-bearing varieties to ensure May harvest — usually the earliest locally — a second wave in July, then a final push in September. But a new greenhouse funded with a government grant will yield strawberries as early as April and extend the season into November, says Angelika Curtis.

And after a lapse of several years, the Curtises are trying to build their U-pick strawberry business. The U-pick cost is $1.65 per pound compared with $2.75 per pint of picked berries.

Coolers in Oregon Bee Store will showcase the berries, along with other produce, including next year's cherries and almonds from trees planted about four years ago. Wild Bee used to be certified organic by Oregon Tilth but let its certification lapse because customers didn't seem to care as much about it as they used to, says Mike Curtis.

"They feel they can trust you."

People do care much more about the bees, themselves, says Curtis. Honeybee die-offs around the country have spurred interest in hobbyist beekeeping. The Curtises responded by stocking Oregon Bee Store with beekeeping supplies and hosting classes from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays throughout the summer. The cost is $20, and participants actually get their hands in the hives, says Mike Curtis.

"It's just more of a service ... and then people can ask questions," he says.

Although Wild Bee has sold starter hives for 15 years, the buzz around beekeeping has "just exploded" in the past two years, says Curtis. Suddenly, "save the bees" is a popular cause, he says.

"If you're a beekeeper, now you're something."

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

Honey Buzz