A&A Honey, Okanogan WA
I first met Ron and Donna Allard at a farmer’s market in Winthrop, Washington when I was on my way back from a backpacking trip this summer. They had traveled over there to sell their delicious alfalfa honey. They told me about their canola honey, which they didn’t have with them at the time. Not having ever tried canola honey, I emailed them later to ask how I could get some, and they actually sent me a jar in the mail, saying I could pay them back next time I was in town. I finally returned to the area this week and had a good time hanging out with Ron and Donna. The next day Ron took me on a tour of his facilities, and also took me up to visit Cougar Canyon Apiaries.
Ron and Donna Allard
- Alfalfa (~90% of production). Also:
- Baby’s Breath (early in the season, small amounts)
Other Bee Products:
Where To Find:
The Allards sell their honey locally in Okanogan and the Methow Valley. Most is sold at area Farmer’s Markets (each of the towns have a market once a week on different days: Okanogan, Twisp, Winthrop, Tonasket, etc.). They also sell in local stores and through fruit stands. Lastly, the honey packer Silverbow will buy their honey by the barrel, though that is less profitable.
Beekeeping has been a full-time business for the Allards since the 1970s. Before that time Ron was a steelworker, and for sixteen years he helped construct a number of Seattle buildings, including the King Dome. Finding himself burned out on the construction business (and various nonsense having to do with union work), he moved to Okanogan. For a while Ron drove a truck, but he eventually tired of it and decided to buy a restaurant. This turned out to be a grueling episode in their lives. He worked all day and night in the restaurant and was rarely able to leave. His wife worked a full-time job elsewhere and then spent the rest of the time helping out Ron. The restaurant, however, led to the beginning of their beekeeping story: a group of guys would show up every morning to socialize over coffee, and a certain fellow would ask for honey. This led to some talk with a local beekeeper, who gave Ron a few hives so he could produce his own honey for the restaurant. At first he just made honey for his customers, which he would put out in bowls. But then a local orchard offered to pay him $25 per hive for pollination. $75 was good money in the 70’s. Ron realized he could make more money from hives, and as he jokingly describes it, “it was all downhill from there.” That was 1976.
All joking aside, beekeeping turned out to be a good choice for the Allards. The business has scaled up enough to make them a good living, and they sell all of their honey each year. Ron’s son is also involved in the business, and to help with production he sometimes gets help from part-time beekeepers in the area. Plus, their yearly pollination trip to California provides some welcome time off. They started taking bees to California in the 1980’s, and in the past have also gone to the Dakotas. Getting the bees to California is grueling (an 18 hour nonstop journey during which the bees face a number of potential challenges, including inspection stops in the heat), but once arrived and the hives placed, the Allards can relax and tour around the area if they want.
Like I’ve heard from other beekeepers, the Allards say that with bees there is always something new to learn, both on the positive and negative side.
Colony collapse disorder has directly affected A&A Honey. Ron said that at one point they had 1,400 hives, which suddenly dropped to 400. To combat CCD they keep up on the latest theories (such as toxic GMO crops), and they produce a lot of their own bee medicines on-site, including essential oils that beekeepers have found help with various bee ailments such as fungus.
Getting different kinds of honey means moving the beehives to different outdoor locations, leaving them exposed to the elements and to animals. This is not usually a problem, but Ron told me the story of a bear that found its way into a farm and tore apart his hives. The bear seemed to eat everything, not just the honey: the wood, the wax, the bees. The bear cost him thousands of dollars in damage. The farmer got his friends together and hunted down the bear.