Unconventional business model works just fine for Berthoud bee enthusiast
June 2, 2014
In today's retail world of anti-theft tags and alarm gates, Marie Koolstra's pay-on-your-honor honey stand along Colo. 56 in northern Colorado may seem a bit out of place.
But Koolstra, who has had the roadside Daisy Lane Honey stand for 15 years, said she's simply left her jars of honey in a cabinet under the bright yellow sign, designating a place to leave money, and she has yet to see any significant losses from theft.
"People treasure this," she said. "They realize this is somebody that trusts them. They want to live up to that trust."
Since the days when her grandfather kept hives and she would write school reports on bees, Koolstra has always been fascinated by the tiny honey makers.
About 20 years ago, she found a place for them on her family farm, Daisy Lane Dairy, Inc., that she and her husband Wilbur had operated since the 1970s.
Bees just seemed to be a natural fit among the pastures on their farm, located at 2538 State Highway 56 in Berthoud.
"We kind of look at ourselves as a land of milk and honey," Wilbur Koolstra joked. "I'm kind of proud of what we do."
Koolstra said she tried having bees a few times unsuccessfully, but after losing an entire colony one winter, she said she started reading up on bees and took her role as their keeper very seriously.
Since then, she's perfected her strategy, and she's able to harvest about 60 pounds of surplus honey every August from each of her hives.
For Koolstra, tending bees is not about exploiting them for their honey; it's about taking good care of them so they can produce enough extra to go around.
She feeds them in the winter, helping them to stay energized and fight off the cold, and she helps them combat mites and disease. She also keeps an eye on the productivity of the queen, who determines the health of the hive.
With relatively few bees — 35 to 40 hives of about 60,000 bees each — Koolstra said she's better able to care for the ones she keeps.
"For big bee people, (my strategies) won't work," she said. "They can't baby them like I do."
She said for the most part, it's honest mistakes that leave the cash jar on the stand too light. But more often than not, people will call to fix their mistakes immediately, and some even drive from places like Fort Collins and Denver to make up the difference.
"I can go a whole year and not lose anything besides maybe a mistake in counting their money," she said.
Inevitably, there are those who shortchange the honey stand, but Koolstra has noticed that if other customers find out about that, they'll often leave extra to make up for their less-honest peers.
Koolstra said her honey has traveled the world, with visitors from countries like Germany, Vietnam and Chili taking jars back home with them. She said she's also had people call her after they've moved away just to tell her how much they miss the honey.
Koolstra said while her business model may seem unconventional today, honey stands were far more common in the past, when many farmers kept hives. She said she likes the idea of leaving people at peace while they pick out their honey, and she's happy that people can stop any time of the day or night to grab a jar or two.
"I think it kind of validates our society as being not as bad as we think we are," she said. ❖