That the company is named “Eat Me Raw” is not the best part.
The sustainable-scale raw-honey business takes its moniker from a phrase founder Dan Skipwith used to end a conversation with a pesky representative from a federal agency.
“It’s nothing sexual I assure you,” Skipwith said, during a recent walk out to his Kasilof-area hives, which were buzzing with the work of 100,000 honeybees.
Beyond a humorist’s view on the world, Skipwith has a message to go with his sweet product: bees are good stewards of their world and their resources, and keeping them can teach mankind to be the same, sometimes.
“Everything else goes away when I open a hive,” he said.
A busy man, with happy-docent qualities and a continuing student’s interest in his work with the bees, Skipwith said this year’s hives might produce enough honey to sell and give away to those he thinks could use the health benefits of raw honey — an anti-viral digestive-promoting antioxidant immune system booster that can also stabilize blood pressure for some and combat allergies for others.
There is also myriad uses for the honeybee wax and the wide collections of tree shrub and plant pollens brought back to the hives from foraging trips.
This year is definitely the best year in a while, Skipwith said of the Kenai Peninsula weather that his honeybees must endure as non-native species. The cold springs and wet summers of the last three years have kept honey production down, if the bees produced at all.
As a general rule, when the colonies in Alaska fail to produce it’s weather related, not colony collapse disorder. Last year, the excessive rain — 28 days in a row — kept Skipwith’s bees in the hives seeking dry warmth when they should have been out foraging for nectars. For the first time, he had to feed his bees.
The total result that year was an only couple of pounds of honey.
“A whole different ballgame than down south,” Skipwith said.
Honeybees are not native to Alaska and as a result keeping them can be a tough proposition. There have been bumper years for production; the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service reports per-hive honey production rates varying from 12 pounds to 127 pounds.
“The late 1980s to the mid 1990s were very good years for the bees,” Skipwith said.
He’s been working with bees for 30 years, since first buying a beekeeper’s suit and hive on a whim. There were about a dozen beekeepers when he began keeping bees. Now, he estimates that 150 people keep honeybees in the Kenai area. Some estimates say up to 45 million honeybees work between the Kenai Peninsula and the agricultural areas around Anchorage.
Like any good tool in Alaska, honey has more than one use. If you are allergic to something, eating a little bee-collected pollen from that plant or tree can begin the end of that allergy, Skipwith said. His family also uses it an anti-bacterial salve on cuts and burns.
His bees work in Kenai, Clam Gulch and in Kasilof. His Kasilof hives will soon move to the fireweed fields consuming the burned area in the Caribou Hills. Until then, they’ll have bluebells, lupine, dandelions, raspberry and any number of other available nectars grown on the Skipwith property.
“My wife and I are gardeners,” he said of the bounty of pollen available to his bees.
Beyond the billions of tons of food produced annually by nectar-seeking bee pollination — every third bite you take, according to Skipwith — they are harbingers of the local environmental health of a community. Be careful of what you put on your lawns and in your soils, he warned. He recently lost a colony in a Kenai neighborhood to pesticide positioning.
“Imagine what that stuff is doing to their children,” he said.
It’s another message that underlies Skipwith’s honeybee mission. For example: to date he’s not mixed his beekeeping with local agriculture. He’s not so sure that his bees wouldn’t get into something chemical based, such as pesticides and fertilizers,
That his honey is organic and non-GMO is very important to Skipwith, but he is keeping an eye toward food farming in Alaska as a future — if global warming continues. As warmer temperatures move north and the Midwest continues to over heat and dry out, Alaska could become America’s breadbasket, he said. It’s in that future that the bees will be needed on the Kenai.
What’s not OK for the honey his bees make, is pasteurizing it and filtering it into a sterile sweetener — like most honey found in most stores. It literally takes the life out of honey otherwise teaming with healthful organisms.
“By the time you get to it in the store, it’s only sucrose,” Skipwith said.
Along with his own personal growth through bees, Skipwith has helped establish other beekeepers and spread the good word of beekeeping as he’s seen the peninsula population grow 12 times over. In schools, at his own hives or the annual harvest party, three generations have caught the bug. He coaches others interested in the subject on the how’s, why’s and philosophies of bee keeping.
“I’m not going to be here forever,” he said.
Answering one final question, Skipwith said, “Yes they have knees. Would you like me to show you?”
Reach Greg Skinner at email@example.com.