For five years, Illini Country Club (Springfield, Ill.) has hosted hives by its driving range. But because of a number of challenges, the club hadn’t reaped any sweet rewards—until now.
In this Q&A, Executive Chef Mark Andrews shares how far the club’s hive has come and what they plan to do with the honey from their “driving range bees.”
Q: When did you start the hives?
A: We started the hives five years ago, but we weren’t able to collect any honey for the last three years.
Q: Why not?
A: A lot of things happened that prevented our hives from thriving. First, our bee expert had some personal issue with the death of his long-term wife. Then, once we got back up and running, a deep freeze killed our whole colony.
Q: How did you overcome these challenges?
A: Everything that happened couldn’t be changed or corrected. We just keep chugging along and persevering. And now we’re seeing all our dedication pay off.
Q: Because you’re finally collecting honey?
A: Yes! This is the first year we have had enough honey in the hives that we can collect some for our own use.
Q: How much honey did you collect?
A: We obtained 35 quarts! We saved five for the kitchen and sold 22 within in the first week.
Q: Where do the bees live on property?
A: At the end of the driving range. We’ve nicknamed them “Driving Range Bees.”
Q: And how are the bees doing?
A: Our hives are thriving and will likely increase output next year. We recently inserted some grids to try and develop honey combs, too.
Q: What made you want to host honeybees?
A: At another club where I worked, we started an oyster farm and it really resonated with the membership. It gave them a sense of pride and ownership to have such a special ingredient that was theirs and theirs alone. I wanted to do the same here for our members. It follows along the same path as on-site our herb garden by the bag drop (which we’ve nicknamed “bag drop herbs”).
Q: What costs are involved with the hives?
A: We pay our expert a reasonable competitive price per quart. This year it was $10 per quart. And we since we sell some of the honey to the membership at $20/quart, it all balances out. The goal is not to use the honey as a money-maker but to instead perpetuate goodwill, exclusivity and value with members.
Q: What value does having your own honey bring to your operation?
A: It has started a lot of discussions within the membership about what the culinary staff is doing. It’s an incredible talking point and point of pride for both the members and the staff.
Q: Are you cooking with the honey?
A: Yes, I have challenged my staff members to create, develop, and serve their best honey menu items. A perfect example is our most recent dish. It features honey from our Driving Range Bees in a compressed drunken goat cheese, grilled peaches, peach coulis, almond crumble, micro basil.