Golden Hills Honey
By Vanessa Herald | Photo By Matt LaForge 0
“You don’t get to know individual bees because they only live three to four weeks. But I do feel a connection to each hive. They really do have their own personality.” – Matt LaForge
Matt LaForge has been a beekeeper for half of his life. No, Matt is not in his sixties, retired or tending to his hives in his spare time. It’s hard to know what’s more inspiring: that at the age of twelve he first fell in love with these honey producing insects, or now at the age of twenty four he has established a successful agricultural enterprise in Golden Hills Honey. Either way, this very experienced beekeeper is a role model for beginning farmers and honey lovers alike.
Matt fell in love with bees upon first discovering the buzzing beauties in the backyard of his grandfather’s neighbor, Tom. “It was a surprise to me, and my family too,” he recounts about the onset of his deep fascination with these delightful insects. This young aspiring beekeeper implored his parents to add a backyard hive to their Brookfield, Wis., home. His persistence paid off. After countless hours of bee research, Matt eventually gained his parents’ approval for the purchase of his first hive from Tom.
In the fall of that first season tending a hive, he was overwhelmed by the harvest of golden sweetness, all of which needed a home. Those first sticky streams of honey were bottled and sold through word of mouth with a Golden Hills Honey label. Yes, all at the age of twelve.
Twelve years later, a good number of Matt’s initial customers still purchase honey today, just lots more of it. Thanks to Matt’s apiarist passions and business acumen, Golden Hills Honey has grown from a one hive hobby in a Brookfield backyard to a 40 hive enterprise producing 3,100 pounds of honey in 2012.
What inspired such a transition? “A lot of people think I went to the Agricultural Economics program because of the bees, but it’s the other way around,” Matt explained about the meshing of his academic and agricultural pursuits. Two pivotal experiences in the winter of 2010 piqued Matt’s interest in transforming his existing bee passion into something more. The first was regularly encountering stories and profiles of successful small, sustainable agricultural producers in his coursework as an undergraduate studying economics at UW-Madison. The second was quality time spent with one of his professors, who was starting his own small farm. As Matt and his professor walked the fields and talked about fencing and the challenges of starting a small business, Matt’s light bulb lit up. Could he build on his years of beekeeping experience and dedicated customer base to create a true farming venture?
“I’d be really busy, but my schedule would be flexible. I decided that I had the time to go around the state and take care of all these bees.” Which was precisely the opportunity Matt faced as he prepared to transition into a graduate program in Agricultural Economics at UW-Madison. He undertook some business planning, and the numbers provided him the confidence to devote time and invest funds to expand the bees as a business. And yes, all while in graduate school.