Beekeepers relish remote locale for honey business

Not everyone can take Going-to-the-Sun Road to go get groceries or routinely post pictures of bears on their blog.

When you live and do business in the wilds of Babb, it’s a whole different world beeswax foundation mill machine.

Greg and Courtney Fullerton own and operate Glacier County Honey Co. near Babb, on the outskirts of Glacier National Park’s east side, just 10 miles from the Canadian border. They’re off the beaten path, but thanks to the Internet and some well-positioned marketing, their business is thriving.

Their honey is raw and 100 percent pure and natural.

“We spin our honey to remove beeswax and impurities from it, but we don’t otherwise add or remove anything,” Courtney said.

Glacier County Honey Co.’s honey is not pasteurized. There’s no labeling process for organic honey, but the Fullertons say their honey is as close as it comes to organic. Their light, clear product is referred to as “water white” in the honey industry. Color is used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to classify honey, with classifications ranging from water white to dark amber.

The Fullertons’ 1,400 hives sprawl across a wide territory, from south of Heart Butte to the Cut Bank area. Closer to home, they keep an electric fence around the hives to deter bears.

Depending on the time of year, a healthy colony will have between 20,000 and 60,000 bees. That equates to anywhere from 25 million to 50 million bees under Glacier County Honey Co. ownership at any given time. This year their bees will produce an estimated 150,000 pounds of honey.

About 90 percent of the crop is sold wholesale to other packers.

The rest is bottled and sent to area shops and goes into the company’s assortment of gift baskets. In the Flathead Valley their honey products are sold at The Apple Barrel in Kalispell and My Sweetie Pies Bake Shop near Columbia Falls. Glacier County Honey Co. products also are available at hotels and other outlets throughout Glacier National Park.

Honey harvest is in full swing at the company’s “world headquarters” off West Shore Road near Duck Lake. As Greg pulls in hives from the fields, they’re

stacked and stored in a 100-degree room — the same temperature as inside the hives — until they’re run through the extractor. The honey goes through a wax separator before filling three 1,000-gallon tanks, where it waits to be bottled.

In between times, Courtney makes beeswax candles and ornaments to supplement the gift baskets. She sells 20-pound blocks to soap and other candle-makers.

By January the bees are trucked in their hives to the flowering almond fields in California, where Greg spends four months tending to his colony.

It’s a sweet story how Courtney and Greg met, got married and then 36 hours later began extracting 125,000 pounds of honey during their “honeymoon” in 2009.

Greg grew up in Babb and learned the beekeeping business from his father, Bob Fullerton, who began keeping bees in the Dakotas and later near Great Falls before founding what is now the Chief Mountain Honey Co. just north of Babb.

Before delving into business on his own, Greg majored in wildlife biology at Montana State University. He became interested in the pollination side of the bee business and founded Chief Mountain Pollination. At that point he began making the trek to California to pollinate the almond orchards.

Courtney, a Southwest Virginia native, first came to Glacier Park with her family when she was 9, and continued coming back each summer. She got a summer job at St. Mary when she was 18.

“I made seven tons of fudge that summer,” she recalled.

After earning her law degree from the Appalachian School of Law, she moved to Missoula to practice law.

Long story short, Greg became friends with Courtney’s brother, who was living at Hillhouse, Courtney’s family’s home near Glacier. Courtney actually had known Greg’s dad for 10 years or better, since her family had bought property in the Duck Lake area. Courtney’s brother introduced her to Greg, and as their website states, it didn’t take too long before they decided they were “meant to bee.”

Two years ago the Fullertons built their honey house, an 80-by-120-foot warehouse. It contains all the extracting and bottling equipment and an apartment they built into one end, making it their “warehome.”

Their daughter Maggie was born in May 2012, on the day the bees arrived back from California, and there’s been little down time since beekeeping-tools.

Still, there’s an easy gait to life in rural Babb, where the wind forever blows and the open space is liberating. Courtney prefers to travel across Sun Road to get groceries in Columbia Falls during the summer months.

Courtney writes about life in the honey business on her blog, glaciercountyhoney.wordpress.com. She wrote most recently about celebrating their third wedding anniversary on July 25, one of the busiest days during honey harvest. Turns out the end of July is do-or-die time in the bee business, but Courtney didn’t know that when she insisted on a July 25 wedding.

“Yesterday, Honeydew (her pet name for Greg) pulled thousands of pounds of honey, and I bottled hundreds of pounds of the same,” Courtney blogged. “We wrapped endless gorgeous beeswax candles and ornaments, polished brass candlesticks, ironed tablecloths, and in general pulled a solid 16 hour work day. At the end of it all, Nan — who’d kept Maggie Rose happy all day — appeared with veggie and pork sliders — and all of our friends convened to help us label the thousands of bottles of honey stacked all over the living room.”

The moral of the story: Life in Babb is oh, so sweet.

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