Farm Horizons, February 2004

Local couple is busy with thriving honey bee business

By Jody Anderson

"Busy as a bee" seems just the phrase to describe the Rufer family's sojourn as they celebrate 28 years of beekeeping at Rufer's Apiaries in Waverly.

Darrel and Cathy Jo Rufer are a first generation beekeeping family. "We started from scratch," Cathy Jo said, "with three hives and a pickup truck."

Today, Rufer's Apiaries boast between 4,000 to 5,000 bee colonies located in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Texas; four 90-frame computer extractors, several flatbed trucks, and a semi-truck.

Although Darrel grew up around bees, it was never his plan to go into the beekeeping business.

He studied to become a chef at Moorhead Technical College, while Cathy Jo studied to become a dietician at Alexandria Technical College.

The couple finally settled down in Minnetonka, both with good jobs in the metro area, when fate re-introduced bees into their lives.

One day, while working as a chef at the renowned Hippogrif Dinner Club, Darrel was surprised to find the kitchen in a state of upheaval. A swarm of bees had invaded the parking lot, upsetting employees and customers alike.

He quickly shook the bees into a box, strapped it on his motorcycle, and took them home. The next step was to order equipment and more bees from the Sears Roebuck catalog.

The home-based hobby quickly grew, until the Rufers decided to quit their day jobs and relocate to Waverly 18 years ago, making beekeeping a full-time business.

"Midwest honey is sought after because it is white and sweet," Cathy Jo said. "It's a great preservative, and a wonderful product to use in baking or cooking."

After marketing their honey at local farmers' markets and grocery stores, the Rufers contracted with Melo Honey, and earlier this year with Sue Bee Honey, amongst others.

They have progressed from bottling and labeling their own honey to shipping it in 650-pound barrels on semi-trailers, and "wintering" their bee colonies in Texas.

They have also progressed in the education of local farmers in conjunction with the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota about the benefits of pollination in the Grain Belt of the Midwestern United States, and the adverse effects of insecticides with high REI levels, along with the benefits derived from early evening or early morning spraying, since bees are at peak activity in the afternoons.

"Every third spoonful of food we eat has been pollinated," she said.

"The bees are fascinating, and have made our lives full," Cathy Jo said.

The Rufers have further expanded activities by occupying several key positions in several apicultural associations over the years.

Darrel holds office as a director of the American Beekeeping Federation, and has been appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to be a director on the National Honey Board.

Cathy Jo is the chairperson of the Minnesota Honey Producers Association, and occupies a position on the Minnesota Grown Advisory Board with the USDA, and is also employed by the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district as a paraprofessional in behavioral sciences.

Rufer's Apiaries is located at 3499 75th St. SW in Waverly. Their telephone and fax are 763-658-4036.

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