Bluegrass Blessings Farms & Apiary | Kentucky | Air Force
Before establishing the title of Owner/Operator of Bluegrass Blessings Farms & Apiary located in beautiful Central Kentucky, Chris Chamberlain served 22 years in the United States Air Force holding 4 different AFSCs. He served as a Vehicle Operator (LRS), Supply Management Specialist (LRS), a Budget Analyst (FM), and a Plans & Resources NCOIC (CF).
Now Chris produces vegetables, fruits, pastured chickens, and of course honeybees.
Everything on his farms is naturally grown although only the produce is currently certified. The apiary is still pending certification as the wheels of the process turn. The Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) program is about growing food within and beyond the National Organic Program’s standards, full transparency between the farmer and the consumer, building a strong community, but without the red tape and Government oversight.
What naturally grown means to him is all of that but more focused on allowing nature to thrive through responsible, sustainable practices which in turn produces better results, stronger plants and animals, and the most nutritious, flavorful food possible.
To focus on the honeybees since this is Pollinator Week, Chris expands:
“I have chosen to keep my bees naturally without any medicinal or chemical treatments, feeding them absolutely no sugar water nor supplements, allowing them to swarm naturally as they deem appropriate, and only stock my hives with swarms caught in the wild. All of this, except maybe catching swarms, is highly irregular in the beekeeping industry. I have chosen the Layen’s hive as the beehive model to use which was developed at the same time as the Langstroth hive (1800s) but gained popularity in Europe and not in the United States.
Catching swarms ensures I am collecting bees of strong survivor genetics, bees that are proven to be adapted to my region, and once again they are free saving my farm tons of money. Purchasing bees often brings out-of-state bees that have been bred to produce quantities, not necessarily quality. Swarming is a natural function of a beehive and is a healthy transaction for the hive. It allows for a natural, controlled break in the brood cycle which helps to manage diseases and pests, the varroa mite especially. Most beekeepers fight to thwart swarming because it slows honey production down for that season. While this is true to some degree, the important thing is the hive left behind is strong and healthy. The swarm that left is also strong and healthy.
If I am lucky I can catch the swarm and develop an additional hive. If I am not, a healthy swarm has left to repopulate the honeybees of the woods. I feel it is far more beneficial for me to be patient with production and accept a smaller crop if it helps bolster the local population of honeybees for generations to come rather than to focus on honey production at the expense of the honeybee’s welfare.”
While just a few example principles and philosophies observed on his farm, they are all focused on allowing nature to do what nature does best with minimal human influence.
“I truly believe honeybees know a lot more about being honeybees than I do.”
Currently at 10 hives and 20 CSA members, Chris’ goal is to grow his apiary to 50 hives, have a 50 member produce CSA, and sell wholesale to his local Community Action Center who is partnered with Feeding America. Tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and cucumbers start rolling in.
FVC helped Chris with a Fellowship grant in 2019, providing the funds for purchase of his vegetable seeder. Membership in FVC has additionally connected Chris with other resources both financial and educational, during the Stakeholders Conference in Frankfort, KY, where he met many educators and administrators anxious to help. A couple of whom visit the farm to help evaluate areas for improvement.
Also awarded a Small Fruit Initiative Grant ($1,250) from the KY Horticultural Council to purchase blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, and strawberry plants, this too was a direct result of a conversation at the conference.
At the end of the day, Chris’ earnest desires for this business is to be profitable, reconnect his friends, family, and neighbors with local food, be a part of strengthening the community socially and economically, and to leave the environment better than when he found it.