Imagine being stung by a bee almost every day of your life. Now imagine being stung as many as 50 times on any given day. That’s all in a day’s work if you’re beekeeper John Miller, left, whose bee pedigree dates to 1894 when his great grandfather, a grain elevator employee, traded a few bushels of barley for six or seven boxes of bees. The hives multiplied, and the Miller family soon took to the rails with its apiarian cargo, following the blossoms from northern Utah to California, from San Bernardino to North Dakota.
Miller’s family began selling honey to the Gambers soon after Ralph Gamber got into the distribution business, and in 1957, Gamber and John Miller’s great uncle, Woodrow, invented the plastic honey bear. Nobody made much money off the container, which was never patented (it wasn’t until years later that a soft-enough plastic was developed to make squeeze containers marketable), but the connection between the two families has lasted. “I’m just another generation in a longstanding business relationship,” says Miller. “I’ve sold those people tens of millions of pounds of honey on a handshake.”
These days, Miller Honey Farms Inc. is one of the largest beekeeping operations in the country with about 13,000 hives. Miller, like his grandfather and father before him, is still a “native migrant,” traveling to pollinate the orchards of California and Washington during winter, then hauling his bees to the clover and alfalfa fields of Gackle, North Dakota, in the summer. Year in and year out, Miller’s sweet migration is the backbone of his honey business.