Benton Swarm Juice   |   Louisiana   |   Air Force

“Greetings from Northwest Louisiana and Happy Pollinator Week from my small business called Benton Swarm Juice.  I can tell you, my beehives are hard at work doing their pollination duties…and also bringing in some honey too!”

Andy Griggs got his start in the beekeeping business because of a pollination problem in his small garden.  A victim year after year to the dreaded Watermelon End Rot, his melons would grow and look fantastic until the ends turned brown and died.  “It was very disheartening.  A potential cause of this problem is bad pollination.  How does one fix a pollination problem? Get bees!”

His company – Benton Swarm Juice – is just as it sounds.  Well, mostly.  “Benton is a small community just north of the Bossier City/Shreveport area.  Swarm, well that stands for how I got started.  I didn’t want to purchase out-of-state bees so I started catching swarms from all over the local area (freebees, get it?).  Juice, well full disclaimer here…no, it contains no juice,” explains Andy.

His product is nothing but raw honey – no sugars, nothing added but what the bees put in it.  “If you have never tasted Raw honey, then for Pollinator Week I suggest you find a local beekeeper and pick up a jar of the good stuff and taste test it against brand X you see in the supermarket,” he proudly exclaims.  “The stuff you get from a local beekeeper right in your own backyard, well that is just slap your momma good, no comparison. Fair warning, you may never buy supermarket stuff again.

Beekeeping has made Andy a better amateur farmer and helped him remember the fun of those childhood days at the farm.  He is tied to the seasons and recognizes the linkages that bind both farming and beekeeping. It is that childhood excitement and fascination of the bee and all the collective roles of the hive that still make all of this fun for him.

Everything Andy does is shaped by the core Air Force values.  Excellence in all facets – from being a father, a friend, a farmer, a beekeeper, an American Airman.  He tries to mentor his buddies the best he can:.  “I want [them] to succeed for if [they don’t] then I wasn’t an effective teacher.  If my bees die, then I wasn’t an effective beekeeper.  Being a leader also means learning from your mistakes, being responsible, and not repeating them.”

During his 15 year career in the Air Force, Andy certainly had his share of difficult situations when flying the B-52H bomber.  “The aircraft is older than I am but just because something is old doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a deadly punch,” as he offers that that mental discipline transfers into every other thing we do in life.  “My training taught me to overcome, adapt, be flexible, and utilize your skills and crew to get the mission done.”

Now his goal build on the idea of bringing local honey to his area, and in the future, to other small rural towns.  He  wants to bring local honey to the supermarket, antique stores, and hardware stores in the area where the honey is pulled.

“The greatness of local honey is the flowers, trees, and pollen in your area will be contained in that golden awesomeness.  No two areas are alike and there are slight variations based on the nectar sources. I want to capitalize on that uniqueness and bring it straight to the local community. If you want Benton Swarm Juice, gotta come to Benton.

Honored to be a FVC grantee in 2019, Andy is grateful the scholarship funded him to purchase wood ware to double his current hives and increase production by putting them in local towns.  But as a beekeeper, it takes time to expand.  A quick Fall last year led his bees into Winter with low resources, and the mild Winter meant resources were used more quickly without any nectar sources to replenish.  Even with supplemental feeding he lost all of them.

Now COVID-19 has prevented the aggressive swarm season for which he hoped.

“Nothing is lost, we can rebuild, we will get through this…and adversity builds character, right?  Well at least, that is what all our military supervisors told us when dealt a difficult situation, sound familiar? This coalition is no stranger to the woes Mother Nature throws at us.”

We are in unique times celebrating a very unique pollinator week this year.  Andy leaves us with this message:

“Be safe in your outings, find a local beekeeper, try some local raw honey, celebrate life and keep in mind, the honeybee is just one of the pollination insects.  Without the bee, without pollination…mankind would find itself in a crisis, perhaps even a greater crisis than any pandemic.  Take the time this week to learn about pollination, try some local honey, enjoy it with your family.  It’s a natural antimicrobial, maybe it will help keep the viral cooties away. Take care FVC family.”