VOLUME 38 NUMBER 2 | SUMMER 2020
OJAI’S OWN by Alicia Doyle
Celebrating four decades in business, the Heavenly Honey Company offers a wide selection of nectars, including avocado honey from the Ojai Valley, clover honey from the plains of South Dakota, and wildflower honey made locally in the surrounding hills and valleys. “One of the things that separates us from the others is the way we handle the honey – we pour everything one drum at a time by hand,” explained co-owner Barbara Haskins. Also, “we are starting with the finest honey we can find. That’s another thing that makes us unique.” This honey bee biz began in 1979 with Bob Mearns, who is Haskins’ father. That year, Mearns – who had a passion for beekeeping and a dream to produce the best quality honey possible – brought his first beehive home to his daughter and wife, Lynda. And for the next few decades, the family worked together to fulfill his vision. “My dad was an innovator and tried many things along the way,” Haskins said. “Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but in the end, we had tried and true methods for keeping healthy bees and producing wonderful honey.” 1,500 hives Mearns brought more hives to his family’s tract home in Canyon Country, California, where the bees’ flight path out of the hives and the yard were right behind Haskins’ swing set. To this day, Haskins has fond memories of swinging back and forth – with the bees bouncing off of her. “My friends never had a typical backyard experience at my home,” she recalled. When the number of hives grew to eight, the neighbors started to complain, so Mearns found another home for his hives.
honey company “About that time we started making honey and my dad’s post-retirement purpose became real,” remembered Haskins, who noted that after much “heartfelt deliberation” the name was created: Heavenly Honey Company. “Before we knew it, we went from that one hive to 1,500 hives.” The business changed in 2008 when Mearns died. “When my dad passed away 12 years ago we had to decide what we wanted to do with our business, because he was the beekeeper and he never went out without me until I left for college,” Haskins said. “So I was there from hive one to 1,500 … we had to make a decision about what we wanted to do. We had invested our entire lives in 1,500 colonies of bees.” This investment meant “never any vacations that didn’t have something to do with the bees. After hive 200, our lives circled around the bees,” she continued. “So being faced with having to do the business was a heavy decision. And we weren’t ready to sell them and walk away.” At the time, Haskins was working fulltime in a different industry along with her husband, Jeff, and knew she didn’t want to continue on that path long term. “He and I were not happy with that life,” she said. “So we had this opportunity to come back into the family business that we weren’t far from and leave our day jobs.” The couple then made the “hard but logical” decision to sell their bees to a friend of the family who was a third-generation beekeeper. At the same time, they wanted to remain in the honey business, so they moved the Heavenly Honey Company from its original home base in Acton, California. to Ojai. They also gave the label a “facelift” while expanding their wholesale honey business up and down the southern Central Coast of California. Eat honey that feeds industry integrity Over the past 40 years, the Heavenly Hon-
ey team has refined their skills at bringing honey to the market, and a major part of that skill-set is choosing the right honey from the right beekeeper for their customers. Today, the Heavenly Honey Company is known for procuring honey from a select group of beekeepers who “maintain the same cultural practices we always did,” said Haskins, further noting that these beekeepers “really appreciate how we treat their honey compared to what mass packers do to honey.” “Because of our knowledge of beekeeping we are able to connect with our beekeepers and understand their methods of beekeeping,” explained Haskins, further nothing that they know where they keep the bees and what grows in those areas – as well as what kind of “human interactions” there are in the surrounding areas. “Of course, application of harmful agrochemicals is paramount for us to be aware of,” Haskins said. “Luckily, it’s important to all our beekeepers as well and they avoid those areas in an effort to keep their bees healthy and safe. Heavenly Honey is different from other honey packers that buy honey from outside beekeepers, because they know each and every beekeeper, and, Haskins stresses, “ their cultural practices must align with our own.” These cultural practices include no harmful chemical applications to the bees, no overheating, no mixing varietals together and being mindful of where the bees are kept – meaning away from harmful agrochemicals – as well as proper treatment of the honey during the extracting phase. Accordingly, all the honey purchased from their beekeepers is made by those beekeepers. “We never procure our honeys from larger packers who are known importers of honey,” Haskins said. “We have never dealt in foreign honey and we never will. When you