I first met Jeff in 1999 and joined the the gypsies of Beekeepers in 2000; a young 17-year-old escaping the halls of educational facilities after graduating from high school. I joined a small circle of beekeepers in Long Prairie and Eagle Bend, Minnesota, which provided me the opportunity to assert my independence, financially provide my own way, be near my brother, and fall in love.
I probably idealize that time period too much, but it seems like the happiest days of my life were in Minnesota, secretly gardening naked, swimming with beautiful wood and painted turtles in the pond behind the bee shop, or mudding with our three- and four-wheelers at Spider Lake. In early spring every good beekeeper feels the itch to hurry with orange honey production in California and get on the road with the bees, heading northeast toward Minnesota, Land of the 10,000 Lakes, which naturally appeals to my DNA-laden wanderlust blood.
Jeff Anderson is a ruggedly-built stocky Minnesotan with sandy hair who looks like he stepped out of a Western Shootout Saga; and yet his voice is always calm and gentle which meticulously sounds out witty remarks in a very dry sense of humor. My fondest memory of Jeff was from Saturdays, when he would play the piano while I sang and Rachel, his daughter and my soon-to-be sister-in-law, played her flute. Jeff was the type of man every teenager wishes for her father (although I wouldn’t trade my own, but wouldn’t mind having a second one)–willing to get out on his-three wheeler and play in the mud with four young couples.
Jeff used to run a five-thousand-hive bee operation. But since 2000, Jeff’s bees have dropped from five thousand hives to less than two thousand. This spurred a research enterprise to find out why the bees died and charge the culprits to enforce the federal laws. California & Minnesota Honey Farms is a four-generational enterprise, handed down through the family since 1945. The family was featured in a May 1993 National Geographic Article on Beekeepers, and when my oldest brother, Rick, was 13 and saw another 12-year-old female beekeeper, that article inspired him to pester my parents to get him a beehive (which didn’t work). Unbeknownst to all, Rachel’s family seared into his mind and in 1999 they met in college, marrying in 2001.
California & Minnesota Honey Farms has been in danger of extermination—not only from the disappearing and dying bees, but also from International Paper company. International Papers is a vile corporation that illegally sprayed chemicals on the bees, which killed off thousands of hives and jeopardized the livelihood of a family whose business spans four generations, thousands of bee stings, and countless lonely nail-biting miles on the road.
Bees are like canaries in a coal mine—their decline and seemingly disappearance signals dangers for the rest of us. The problem is that beekeepers have become marginalized since agricultural areas are turning into developed cookie-cutter homes and industrial complexes, making it hard for beekeepers to be heard… until the Great Disappearing of Bees began sometime in 2005. This made Jeff Anderson, Protector of Bees, famous for his fight against International Papers.