Kloten, N.D.  - Kloten Apiaries, which started making honey here about four decades ago, is still buzzing along and recently landed a sweet national award.

Elizabeth Stromme, whose family founded Kloten Apiaries 38 years ago, said they entered this year’s Good Food Awards contest in San Francisco on a whim, after Kloten Apiaries was invited to submit honey for judging.

“It was just something that came out of left field and I said, ‘OK, let’s send a couple jars,’ ” Stromme said.

Kloten Apiaries ended up being one of a dozen honey producers in the country to receive a Good Food Award this year, with the winners determined by an organization comprised of representatives from a cross-section of the food industry.

While the award is nice, working with bees and producing honey is its own reward, Stromme said.

“It’s a pleasure to be out there (in the bee fields) and not having to have a regular 9 to 5 job,” she said.

Her sentiment was echoed by her son, Nick, who at 37 is now chief beekeeper for the operation, which also includes his father, Brad, who is dealing with health problems but still enjoys working with bees.

After growing up in the bee business, Nick Stromme spent a number of years away, first to get a college degree and later to work for a bank in the Twin Cities.

He returned to the family business about 10 years ago and hasn’t looked back.

“It’s great to be your own boss,” he said, adding it’s also a job that allows for a good deal of free time and opportunities to see the country.

On a recent day, Nick Stromme was on his way to check on bee hives wintering in Texas that will soon be transported to California, where the insects will help pollinate almond trees.

Worrisome change

While the Strommes’ honey operation remains strong, they have the same worry as many beekeepers around the country, namely an ongoing decline in bee numbers that defies easy explanation.

Elizabeth Stromme has her theories about what is causing the problem, factors ranging from agricultural pesticides to loss of habitat and a decline in the planting of crops beneficial to bees.

The latter, she said, is becoming increasingly apparent in North Dakota, long a honey production leader among the states.

Stromme said when she came to North Dakota from Chicago nearly 40 years ago, the diversity of crops grown in the state was something to behold and most were beneficial to bees.

“Fields and fields of sunflowers. Beautiful flax fields that looked like blue oceans. Ditches full of clover and alfalfa.

“Now,” she said, “you drive around and all you see is corn, soybeans and canola.

“Bees do not make any honey off of corn, or soybeans,” Stromme added. “Where is their foraging coming from?”

Over the decades, Kloten Apiaries has grown from 20 hives to about 1,800 today.

The honey its bees produce is sold to restaurants and bakeries, as well as in grocery stores and other retail outlets across the region, including Prairie Roots in Fargo and Amazing Grains in Grand Forks.

For more information about the business and where to find Kloten Apiaries honey, visit their newly minted Website at www.klotenapiaries.com.

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