Then & Now
Two things fascinated me growing up: the outdoors, and starting my own business. I experimented with every business I could dream up as a kid living in rural Texas. Lemonade stands, (not much traffic on country roads) raising and selling vegetables and fresh eggs, (hard to grow things in dust) painting the farmer’s fences next door, (ran out of fence) but nothing was ever quite the perfect fit. My big break came in 2002 at 12 years old. I really had never been that interested in beekeeping before, because, bees just sting right? But, my parents convinced me to sign up for a scholarship that offered kids all they needed to get started in beekeeping. I had never won anything for free, so I was super excited when, to my surprise, I won a free beehive, and classes to help me get started in beekeeping. Two classes in, I fell in love with beekeeping. I’ll never forget the thrill of watching my own bees work to gather honey, or the amazement of tasting honey from my own beehive! Everything they did fascinated me!
I built my first building by cutting down trees for lumber on my parent’s land, and using recycled sheet metal. It had no electricity, water, floor, or air conditioning, but it was perfect. I spent days and nights building new beehives and planning for the future. I decided in high school that I wanted to share my passion for bees with everyone else, and began growing my business and selling honey to a few friends and family. A local health food store called “Mike’s” was the first real customer I had. John Talbert was in his 70s, and was my hero & mentor who inspired me to become a commercial beekeeper and helped me grow in the early days.
Back then, every label on every jar was hand applied and I delivered every case of honey in person from my grandfather’s 1988 Ford truck. All of the sudden, everyone wanted more and more honey! I added beehives to my operation, delivered honey every morning before sunup, rushed through school, and worked late into the night again with my bees. When I was 17, I became the president of the local beekeeping club that gave me my first beehive. I was honored by the opportunity to give back to the people that gave so much to me. By the time I graduated high school in 2008, I had several hundred beehives, and was selling honey all over my local area. I upgraded to a 1995 pickup, and worked bees all day, and bottled and delivered honey by night.
But, I had a choice to make. Do I slow down the bee business, and go to college, or do I continue with my success, and put college plans on hold? As I was attempting to decide, I also become the president of the Texas Beekeepers Association, and a director for the American Beekeeping Federation. I didn’t know it yet, but I had also met my future wife two years before. By the time graduation rolled around, she didn’t know it, but I was convinced she was the girl I had to marry. So, I decided beekeeping was already my passion, and I knew I could make a living doing it, and chose to give it 110%. I never looked back. At 20 I married Kathleen. We spent 10 days on our honeymoon- the longest I had been away from bees since I was 12.
Since then the company has grown to several thousand beehives, and I still care about each jar and beehive like they were my first. I don’t get to hand deliver every jar to each customer now, but I do get to work bees every week during the busy season. I’m still amazed by them every day. I get to serve on the National Honey Board to help promote honey in the USA, and the American Beekeeping Federation to help promote beekeeping. Bees & beekeeping have been a part of me almost as long as I can remember. That’s why, even as we grow, we are always beekeepers first.
-Blake Shook – Owner/Beekeeper