© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Datebook: Honey Festival Hopes To Cultivate New Bee Lovers

Sisters Alicia Bunting (left) and Amber Rutledge (right) own and operate Wile Harvest Honey Farms in Heyworth.
Sisters Alicia Bunting, left, and Amber Rutledge own and operate Wild Harvest Honey Farms in Heyworth.

Sisters Amber Rutledge and Alicia Bunting love bees.

And they’re hoping after paying a visit to their honey farm in Heyworth, you will, too.

Wild Harvest Honey Farm hosts its Second Annual Honey Festival from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 24.

With three food trucks, five live music acts, a petting zoo, a hot honey competition, guided pollinator garden walks and more, the farm will be buzzing with activity.

Event Details

What: Wild Harvest Honey Farm 2nd Annual Honey Festival
When: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, July 24
Where: Wild Harvest Honey Farm, 9122 Bucks Rd., Heyworth
Cost: $5 for garden tasting walk

The sisters held the inaugural event in 2020 in honor of the farm’s one-year anniversary.

Rutledge and Bunting grew up on the property while it was still a working crop and livestock farm. But operations shut down after their grandfather passed away 15 years ago.

The sisters set out on a mission to restore the family’s legacy.

“We just wanted to bring some life back out here and start fixing it up like how we used to remember it,” Rutledge said. “And beekeeping was a big part of our family tradition — our great-grandpa started it.”

After learning the craft themselves, Bunting said the sisters want to help inspire future generations of beekeepers.

“We wanted to have a place where we could share our love for bees and really spread that into the community,” she said.

Inside the space where rows of chickens once roosted, visitors can now attend classes, view a real live working hive, and shop dozens of varieties of honey, including honey produced at Wild Harvest, across the country and around the world.

Rutledge explained honey tastes different depending on what kind of flowers the bees visit.

“So when we plant around here for our honey we kind of think about that, like how much more do we want of this species versus another to balance it out,” she said.

The bees at Wild Harvest visit three large pollinator gardens spread across the farm, gathering pollen from native plants like blazing star, bee balm and clover. The flowers not only help make delicious honey, they provide the bees with an essential food source.

Rutledge said in addition to pesticides and disease, a lack of food is one reason bees are in trouble — in part because of the way humans manage the land today.

“We burn everything or spray it now,” she said. “Everybody mows, everybody wants that manicured lawn, and even out in the country where weeds used to naturally grow, it’s not there anymore.”

Bunting said bees aren’t the only living things threatened by the practice.

“They’re a huge pollinator, which you know is a great food source for lots of different animals and obviously for us,” she said.

Rutledge recalled how the farm changed from quiet, grassy pasture land when they planted the pollinator gardens.

“The birds we’re seeing, the butterflies we’re seeing, even some really cool dragonflies, just the whole system of it has really blown our minds,” she said. “Last year, we had a new butterfly migration come through here that I had never seen, and I felt like I was in a Disney movie, there were just hundreds flying all around.”

Guests at the Honey Festival will get a chance to experience the pollinator gardens with all of their senses on a garden tasting walk.

“We’ll walk you through our pollinator gardens, and we’ll talk all about pollination, but when we get to certain varieties of monofloral plants that we have planted, you’ll be able to taste that monofloral honey,” said Rutledge , explaining bees produce monofloral honeys by feeding on just one type of plant pollen.

“So if you want to taste what French lavender tastes like, we’ll have that honey available,” she said.

The tasting is $5, but guests are welcome to skip the honey and follow along with the guided walk for free.

Rutledge also encouraged visitors to talk with the beekeeper who will be onsite to help answer their burning bee questions.

Kids and adults interested in learning more about beekeeping also can sign up for a hands-on hive experience. She said Wild Harvest hopes to offer beginner beekeeping classes early next year.

Rutledge said sales from the boutique and the honey walk all go right back into caring for and educating the community about the importance of bees.

“We work our own full-time jobs, and we do this as an environmental thing as well,” she said. “If you’re thinking about getting into bees, or you’re curious about bees, we’re here for that.”

The Honey Festival kicks off at 9 a.m. July 24 at Wild Harvest Honey Farm in Heyworth. For a full schedule of food trucks, music and activities until 9 p.m., visit the farm’s Facebook page.

Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.