The Ioway Bee Farm, owned and operated by the Ioway Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska in White Cloud, Kansas, was founded in spring 2016. Prior to the beginning of the farm, the Tribe was contacted by elder Pete Fee, who had raised bees and sold honey from his home for years.
Fee reached out to Lance Foster, the historic preservation officer for the Tribe, and asked if there was any interest in getting the Tribe involved with raising bees. Interested, the Tribe purchased one hive and placed it on Dupuis Hollow, an area free from the synthetic chemicals common with traditional agriculture.
“Quickly we began to learn more about the benefits of bees on the environment and our food system” said Chairman Tim Rhodd. He knew this was something that could benefit the agriculture-based community and food sovereignty for the Tribe.
Feeling confident, the Tribe decided to purchase more hives and the equipment to start a full-fledged bee farm with start-up costs covered by the Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Jimmy Lunsford, a local of Rulo, Nebraska, and veteran bee farmer was hired as the beekeeper to raise the bees and to develop the initial line of bee products.
“When everything arrived, the Tribal community and Tribal employees came together to get the project started. Nothing was assembled, or painted, it was all new. So, we all had to come together to get the hives built for our new bees to be housed in.” Rhodd said. “It was great to see a sense of community being built right along with the farm”
What started as one hive quickly became a full-functioning bee farm including 54 hives and housing over two million bees.
“It’s been amazing to look back and see where we started, and how far we have come,” Rhodd said.
The Ioway Bee Farm now plays an important role in the local ecosystem helping plants flourish and grow in a natural environment, transferring pollen between flowering plants, increasing biodiversity, and bringing pollinators back to the land.
By 2019, under the management of Lunsford, the Ioway Bee Farm was producing over 1,100 pounds of honey, steadily growing the business, and bringing jobs back to the tribe.
Lunsford said he has always been interested in bees.
“When I was younger, I had relatives that had bees,” he said. “As I got older I started realizing how important bees were to us and our environment and developed a passion for bees. Sometimes I like to just sit there and watch them buzz around. When I was younger I’d watch them go from tree to tree gathering pollen and nectar, stopping and taking a rest on the forest mushrooms. The bees show the interconnectedness of nature. And I’m still learning what the bees have to teach me and all of us about how nature works and how important biodiversity is to the environment.”
The honey is raw, organic, and is never overly processed ensuring that all of the incredibly healthy enzymes are kept alive. Raw honey, one of nature’s superfoods, is packed with antioxidants, and various anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. When applied to the skin, externally raw honey may also heal minor wounds and burns, aid in digestive health, and soothe sore throats.
With the new Regenerative Agriculture direction the Tribe is taking, they aim to focus on regenerating their soil health while restoring the natural habitats for many different species of life. Regenerative agriculture not only promotes the health of the land but also helps the Tribe meet their goals of providing nutrient-dense, natural foods to their tribal members and local community.
Diabetes and cancer rates are a growing concern across Indian Country, with Native Americans twice as likely to develop the disease than Caucasians. By making healthier food more accessible we can reduce the number of diabetes cases and promote a healthier lifestyle for all.
Our bodies were not made to ingest the processed food we eat today. We need to find new ways to produce nutrient dense food while focusing on the health of our soils and to educate our community. If we can regenerate our soils back to what they once were, the land will give back to us the nutrient dense foods our diets require to stay healthy.
Rhodd said he is happy to work with SweetGrass Trading Company to offer the line of honey products to a larger audience.
“We have the same common goals, values and traditions,” Rhodd said. “We are Native and we both view ourselves as stewards of the land.”
“By growing the Ioway Bee Farm to a national level we have created a way to diversify the Tribe’s farm as well as spread the message of regenerative farming and healing our soils.” Rhodd said. “We have much work to be done, honey was just our first step.”