The Buzz Around Eastern Oregon
Situated between the tree-lined confluence of the John Day and North Fork John Day rivers, and surrounded by the scenic tapestry of the Painted Hills, the Eastern Oregon town of Kimberly (pop. 280), is a small farming community just off-the-beaten-path with undiscovered charm. But despite its modest population, you could argue that Kimberly is “buzzing” with activity.
Not far from town, along Oregon Route 402, adventurous travelers will find a red tin-roofed shack with a hand-painted sign reminiscent of simpler times and slower days, that simply reads Local Honey Here.
In true Eastern Oregon fashion, the stand offers honey treats by way of the honor system, trusting that neighbors and visitors alike will take what they want and leave what they should. The stand is one of many facets of the Apricot Apiaries working farm, operated by partners Matt Allen and Liz Lovelock. Busy as the bees they keep, Matt and Liz manage more than 500 hives that pollinate apple trees and cherry blossoms on neighboring farms as well as almond blossoms as far away as California.
When not tending to bees or chasing their two young boys (lovingly referred to as creature number one and creature number two), the spouses manage their business renting, selling, and packaging bees for enthusiastic Oregon beekeepers, and hosting bee-centric educational workshops and hive observations. The honey Liz and Matt harvest from the hives profiles the vast diversity of flavors the farm provides for their dutiful pollinators.
Pollination is not taken for granted in the agriculturally-blessed communities of Eastern Oregon. Farmers and ranchers work tirelessly to tend to flocks and crops, dependent on pollinators to play their crucial role in the ecosystem. This symbiotic relationship dates back to 1600, when European settlers introduced the honey bee to North America. Like settlers, these bees eventually made their way into all 50 states.
Today, Oregon is home to nearly 650 species of bees, most of which are native, solitary bees that frequently go unnoticed. Though all play a critical role in ecology. From the alfalfa fields that feed eastern Oregon cattle, to apple blossoms, wildflowers, and countless other native and farmed plants, Eastern Oregon farmers and ranchers hold a deep reverence for the tireless work – and plight – of the honey bee.
Honey stands and family farms dot the regions of Eastern Oregon, offering locally harvested honey and other local bounties. The simplest route to the hidden treasures is found along several Eastern Oregon Farm Trails:
In the northeast corner of Oregon, among sweeping scenic landscapes with the backdrop of the ruggedly beautiful Blue Mountains and Wallowa Mountains, the Grande Ronde Farm Trail hosts a number of sweet stops that honey-seekers and other food- and agritourism-minded visitors are sure to find fruitful. The 55-mile drivable loop is a self-guided tour that showcases the abundance of the valley and the love local residents pour into it. Honey lovers will find treats ripe with the flavor of local blooms at Platz Family Farm and Cove Honey Stand.
Pro Tip: Be sure and check for an ‘open’ sign or call before you visit the farms and ranches, as many stops on the tour are working farms where owners tend to both fields and farm stands.
Located in the John Day River region of Eastern Oregon, the surrounding landscape is prime for growing delicious fruit and vegetables, raising livestock, and for pollinators to thrive. The climate is dry – the locals warm and genuine. Curvy roads wind through ranch land requiring a leisurely speed and awareness for wildlife near the sides of the road. Wildlife is common in “free-range” country where deer and cattle have the right-of-way. With plenty of open roads between the farm trail towns, honey hunters will need to keep that gas tank topped off and snacks on hand while discovering Apricot Apiaries. Options to embrace the full potential of the John Day River Farm Trail are available to visitors when they make a getaway out of their adventures and stay at nearby Land’s End Cabin and Campground, where guests arriving via private aircraft can even make arrangements to fly directly into the Land’s End Airport.
Fun fact: Did you know that honey is one of only a handful of foods in the world that doesn’t spoil? And honey bees are the only insects that produce food eaten by humans.
Oregon’s Rugged Country covering Morrow and Umatilla counties is home to the River to Hills Farm Trail. The scenic route hosts 23 stops of century farms, produce stands, tasting rooms, and more. Wide-open prairie provides a backdrop for the farmers and ranchers who are proud stewards of the land. At Oregon Trail Honey Farms in the town of Hermiston, the honey harvested by the farm is representative of the agriculture growing nearby. Honey hunters will find products ranging from traditional clover honey with light and delightful flavor, to the dark rich color and a slight hint of mint in honey harvested from hives located near a mint patch. Not to mention the house-made mead, which is widely known as “the nectar of the gods.” A quick phone call is all that’s needed to arrange a visit to the farm to re-up the honey supply.
Fun fact: To make one pound of honey, the bees in the colony must visit 2 million flowers, fly more than 55,000 miles, and will require the lifetime work of approximately 768 bees.
When it comes to honey, and the broader role of honey bees in the agricultural ecosystem, there’s plenty of buzz surrounding Eastern Oregon. Local purveyors take an artisan approach to the many different flavor profiles available, making for a quintessential Oregon experience. No matter the trail, all roads lead to honey, the fun will never spoil when exploring one of Eastern Oregon’s many regions and Farm Trails.