When folks ask Clay Guthrie how business is going, he reaches for his favorite pun.
And he’s got the bee stings on his fingers to prove it, earning 2-3 stings every time he reaches into a hive.
Guthrie, 35, a honey beekeeper himself and the manager of Frankfort’s beekeeping supply shop, is at the center of beekeeping in the region.
He runs the local branch of Dadant & Sons – America’s largest and oldest beekeeping supply company – on Chenault Road. Guthrie’s team ships hives, equipment and anything to do with beekeeping or honey production all over the country.
“You can’t get these supplies from Walmart or Sears Roebuck Co.,” he says. “In fact, when Sears Roebuck sold them, they got the equipment from us.”
Headquartered in Illinois, Dadant, which celebrates 150 years next year, is run by sixth-generation family members.
“Very few companies have been around that long,” says Guthrie, an Alabama native who started out at a Dadant location in Iowa. “They’re time-tested and proven and still doing what they set out to do six generations ago; that’s pretty amazing. You don’t see that in corporate America much.”
The Frankfort warehouse is a beekeeper’s dream with stacks of Ponderosa Pine hives and a showroom with all the tools of the trade, right down to plastic bears ready to be filled with local honey.
As employees fill orders, honeybees from two hives behind the warehouse buzz in and out unhindered. Most orders are shipped out, but many customers prefer to see the products firsthand.
“About 40 percent of our customers come in,” Guthrie says. “It’s something of a destination for people who will stop in on their way through Kentucky.”
His small staff of five is happy to answer questions, and they like to explain beekeeping to newcomers.
“A lot of times we’ll take them out to a hive so we can demonstrate equipment or answer questions,” Guthrie says.
They also have a small literature section on beekeeping, including Dadant’s “Beekeeping Bible” – The Hive and the Honey Bee.
Dadant also buys raw beeswax from beekeepers for $2.95 a pound. With honey production down across the U.S., beekeepers aren’t able to harvest as much wax, which is why the purchase price is so high, Guthrie explains. He sends thousands of pounds of the local wax back to headquarters where beeswax candles and products are manufactured.
“People will come in, especially the old-timers and sit down over a cup of coffee,” Guthrie explains why his shop is so memorable. “We talk beekeeping, but we talk about other things, too. It’s kind of nostalgic.”
Dadant chose to locate in Frankfort in 2005 because of its vibrant beekeeping community, Guthrie said. He estimates there are roughly 300 colonies of bees in Franklin County, with around 30-50 beekeepers. Guthrie took over management in 2007, which is when he and his family started beekeeping themselves.
His wife, Kim, and their two kids, Skyler, 11, and Emma, 8, keep 16 honeybee colonies at home and help out at the branch, too. They sell their honey under the name Guthrie Naturals.
“The family’s engaged, and that’s neat,” says John Antenucci, president of the Capital City Beekeepers Association, which meets at the Dadant warehouse on the fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. “He gets his family engaged then he reaches out to people he meets all over the region.”
Antenucci, a beekeeper with 50 hives, says the association draws heavily from Guthrie’s expertise.
“His network around the state and region immediately gives us access to people who are experts on, say, the raising of queens, treatment for diseases, the best plant material.”
Guthrie says his love for beekeeping came later in life. Growing up in Alabama, he wanted to be a farmer, but when he ended up working at a Dadant warehouse in Iowa, he found something he really enjoyed.
“The honeybee is a vital part of sustainable agriculture,” Guthrie says. “Every third bite you eat is pollinated by the honeybee either directly or indirectly … and it’s just cool, there’s no other way to say it.”
He says more young people and young families are becoming beekeepers because they see how honeybees fit into the local food chain.
“A lot more people in their 30s and 40s realize that food is not grown and produced at Walmart or Kroger, and it’s with those people that we’re seeing a huge increase in beekeeping.”
Around four years ago, the Capital City Beekeepers Association had only 10-12 members, Antenucci says, but it has grown to more than 75.
“The typical caricature of a beekeeper is an old guy, but the reality is that there are now as many women or more that have joined and are actively tending to bees, and a large number of young people and young families are doing it,” he said, adding that Dadant is the perfect place for them to get started.
DADANT & SONS
Location: 955 Chenault Road
Beekeepers meeting held at dadant: Every fourth Tuesday at 7 p.m., nonmembers are welcome, club dues are $8 a year