Dustin Vanasse, a Minnesota farm boy turned chef for 15 years, owns a small Twin Cities outfit called Bare Honey.
He was attracting attention like bees on honey last week at the big Winter Fancy Food trade show in San Francisco.
Vanasse, 38, is a few years into a cutting-edge trend: making and bottling honey from bee colonies raised on restored, pollinator-friendly habitat also used for solar energy farms in rural Minnesota and elsewhere.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has noted that pollinator-based products, from lip balm to honey-infused beer, is a fast-growing trend. Meanwhile, the state is on track to increase from 2% to 5% or more the next few years the amount of power generated from solar energy, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.
That's a lot of acres on what often was marginal land. And it's another derivative benefit of Minnesota's fast-growing renewable-energy industry.
"The solar developer contracts with the farmer to build a solar array," Vanasse said. "Bare Honey reaches out and says we can add hives, if you are interested. We work with the solar energy developer, such as IPS Solar. We plant native plants and provide pollinator education. We put our own bees on the solar field, or I contract with one of our affiliated beekeepers. We provide the contract to the solar energy developer.
Bare Honey generates and cares for the hives. At harvest season, the landowner gets paid per negotiated pollination contracts.
"It promotes their planting of the land in native habitat. It's also good for the renewable-energy industry. It's a 'multi-stacking' of environmental benefits," Vanasse said. "We reduce reliance of fossil fuels while adding acres of native pollinator habitat. Bees, wasps, birds and bats."
Vanasse also has a date to speak at the upcoming national conference Pheasants Forever, no small group, that also is interested in increasing natural habitat and conservation.
He sees a great opportunity with other stakeholders, and he already employs about 20, including contractors, to make a buck while tapping the demand for renewable energy, saving bees and cleaning often-polluted topsoil with native plants.