Champion Hill Farm
200 S. Marshall Rd.
Beulah, MI 49617
Farmer: Greg Griswold
Favorite Tool: Bee smoker
Products: Honey, bee pollen, raw honey, and beeswax.
Varieties: Star Thistle, Basswood, Sumac, and custom harvest.
Production: 9,700 lbs. of honey in 2011.
Favorite Recipe: Peaches canned in my own honey.
Why do you love farming? I'm a perfectionist, to a fault. I want a hive that is functioning and thriving. I enjoy working with the bees. It's always interesting. There's always something new to learn.
I love the independence and being out in nature. Hearing the Sandhill cranes...
What's challenging about farming?
Each year you make the fatal mistake that you can't fix until next year. The Varroa mite. It came to the U.S. in the '80's and '90's and changed the beekeeping world. You can use chemicals to get rid of them or you can try to breed resistance without chemicals. That's what I'm trying to do, use organic methods of essential oils and organic acids. It's labor intensive, but it's better for the bees. You have to know your enemy.
The weather; it has to be 50 degrees for bees to fly out of the hive. There are so many stumbling blocks, but each year you learn!
What's unique about your operation?
I'm one of the only beekeepers who keeps my bees here in the winter. It's not easy to do. You have to make sure they are free of mites, leave enough honey stores for them through winter, and you may have to feed them if their stores are low.
I'm a chemical-free beekeeper and treat with IPM, only if necessary. I'm smaller scale, more intensive. Each hive has more attention—each one matters! I'm working to raise my own queens, a northern Michigan hardy strain of bees.
People tell me that ours is the best- tasting honey. We minimally process it, use less heat.
Local Foods: I think the general public has realized that if they want real food, they need to look in the eye of the person who made it.
Future Plans: We hope to be at more farmers markets in the future. And we plan to be selling bees.
Busier Than a Bee
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Greg Griswold wanted to keep it simple, but success had other plans.
“To Know Bees is to Love Bees”—that is the thought behind every jar of Champion Hill Farm honey. It hits the mark for beekeeper and owner Greg Griswold, who has a passion for those busy, buzzy creatures!
“Bees are amazing!” he says. “Each day, there’s something to learn about them that will truly amaze you. They are resilient, incredible creatures. My wife calls them overachievers. They are tireless!”
After many years working in retail and wholesale sales, Greg decided to turn his bee hobby into a career. Just two years ago, he says, he “jumped off the cliff” and started working full-time on his Benzie County-based business, Champion Hill Farm.
Greg was born in South Lyon, Mich. and moved to Traverse City in 1975. Being one of four brothers may explain his fascination with the insect world.
“We collected everything that wiggled,” he recalls. “Our mother even let us keep snakes in the basement!”
Though he knew that his grandfather had beehives on his farm, in Missouri, it wasn’t something that Greg thought about doing until many years later, when he met Kirk Jones.
That was in 1984, when Kirk was just starting up a beekeeping business, Sleeping Bear Farms. Greg began working part-time with him, and started keeping his own beehives at his own home, too. Greg learned all about beekeeping; eventually he was working full-time with Kirk.
At first, Greg kept just a few hives, but gradually added more of them. Calling them his “moonlight bees” or “weekend bees,” he continued to work his full-time job while earning some sweet, new, extra income on the side.
In 2008, Greg saw that it was time to branch out on his own, and officially launched Champion Hill Farm. He started with a plan to keep it simple: raise a small number of bees intensively, and sell his products through retail stores and farmers markets.
Word of mouth has made Champion Hill Farm's honey very popular.
He started going to farmers markets and gaining a small following of customers.
“Word of mouth is amazing,” he says. “I’ve met a whole new group of friends and customers through the markets and farms.”
Within months, his business was growing rapidly; now he is very busy keeping up with demand. “I do it all: caring for the bees, harvesting, extracting, packing, and selling.”
A Good Partnership
Greg places his beehives in various locations around Benzie, Grand Traverse, and Leelanau Counties, and is always looking for new ones. Some of his first locations were at several Community Supported Agriculture farms. They allow him to put his bees on their farm; in return they get pollination for their crops.
“It’s been a good partnership,” Greg says. “These are great locations for the bees, since these farms are run organically.”
In fact, Greg often receives requests from people asking him to put his hives on their land: “It’s nostalgic for some people. Maybe their grandparents always kept bees and they want to continue the tradition, or they know how beneficial bees are, so they want them on their land.”
You can purchase Greg’s honey at Oryana Natural Foods Market, Honor and Copemish Family Markets, Burritt’s Fresh Markets, Mary’s Kitchen Port, Gallagher’s Farm Market, Gallagher’s Centennial Farm, Hoxsie’s Farm Market, Potters Bakery, Port City Smokehouse, and other businesses in the region. He also sells it to Cherry Capital Foods, 9 Bean Rows, The Cooks House, Bubba’s, and Firefly.
Or you can meet Greg in person when he’s selling his honey and other bee products at the Traverse City and Frankfort farmers markets, and at the Indoor Traverse City Market, at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, throughout the winter.
He’s also quite pleased to be selling honey to the Benzie County Public Schools: “They buy 16 gallons at a time!”
Greg says it’s a good feeling to be doing something that he loves.
“I’m proud that it worked!” he says. “I’m so busy, and that’s a good problem to have. There is a huge demand for local honey and I have quite the following. My wife tells me I’m always in a better mood when I’ve been working with the bees. I’m busy, I’m happy.”