True Gold Honey gives new meaning to the idea of a “family business.” Its roots go back almost 50 years to when Sarah Sample’s parents started keeping bees in Ashland, Oregon.
The owner of the property they rented had 50 bee hives. Sarah’s father helped out with the bees, found his calling, and bought the hives. Sarah’s mother practiced nursing for 11 days and then quit to work with the bees. The family has been devoted to bee-keeping ever since. They later moved to Gold Hill, Oregon, a town name that is part of the background of True Gold Honey.
“My uncle came and worked with us. Then my grandfather retired in Los Angeles and began bee-keeping. Love of bees and bee-keeping just mushroomed in our family.”
When Sarah was in high school, the family moved to the San Joaquin Valley of California. “It was better weather for bee-keeping, more flowers, and lots of almond trees in the Modesto area. I met my husband, Dave and he came to work for my parents.”
“We were what is known as migrant bee keepers,” Sarah explains. “Every year we transported our hives to North Dakota for 5 months, where the wide-open spaces and fallow fields are full of wild clover and sunflowers. By the time my parents retired, they were running 12,000 hives.”
It was hard work, Sarah’s son Tyler had been helping his dad and grandpa with bees since he was 10 years old, having to stand on a box to be able to see the frames. By 16, he was doing jobs in the fields and putting out new boxes for the bees. When the hives came back from North Dakota, he fed the bees a special bee blend mix to strengthen them after their long ride. Part of his wages was spending money and part was in hives.
Shortly before Sarah’s parents retired, the family decided to focus their bee hives in California. Sarah and Dave had 500 hives of their own and when her parents retired, they bought some of their hives. They now have 4,000.
Tyler took a bit of a detour at first, studying audio engineering and working in a sound studio in LA. But he, his wife and young son soon followed the lure of the life he’d led as a child and moved to Lindsay to work in the family bee business.
One of Tyler’s favorite parts of bee keeping became a job called “grafting.” This involves finding larvae of the right age from multiple hives and putting them in one box with younger bees. As the larvae matures, they are fed a special food called “royal jelly” that turns what would have been an ordinary honeybee into a queen bee. Before these young queen bees hatch, they are removed from the group box and placed gently by hand into new queenless hives. The queen will begin laying eggs and a new hive is formed. Tyler and Sarah “make” all the spring queens to start their new hives.
A car accident that severely injured his back led to a fortuitous change in the family’s plans. “We had not intended to go into retail,” Tyler recalls. “Bee-keeping took all our time. However, with my injury, I couldn’t do the physical work. That bad situation became a blessing in disguise, because we started talking about how we could expand our business, and how I could stay involved. After a lot of planning, we launched True Gold Honey in July 2017.”
The family is very intentional about where and when they make the honey, only when the flowers are at their peak. For instance, when avocado trees start to blossom, the boxes are placed in the orchards. The boxes are pulled as soon as the avocado blossoms are over, so that the result is pure avocado blossom honey.
“We process our own honey with a minimum of intervention,” Sarah explains. “It is raw, so it isn’t cooked or heated, retaining the full complexity of the honey flavors. Pure raw honey is luminous, with an inner shine. We feel that represents our family’s values and the quality of our products. The name True Gold is a nod back to our time in Gold Hill and the golden California hills.”
“The strong ties of our family are similar to the strong community in the bee hives. Working with bees, you become very aware of that.
I feel so blessed to work with my husband and my son. The bees have given me this joy throughout my life.”