Sweet reward: Maple Grove couple earn top marks for honey farm
Opening day at the Minnesota State Fair is about what to see and do. You have to check out something new as well as sample an old favorite.
But in one corner the hustle dies down and Minnesota's sweetest shines at the Bee and Honey Exhibit in the Agriculture Horticulture Building.
David Schaaf, superintendent of the exhibit and competition, oversees about 700 to 800 entries in a typical year.
"We had a very competitive contest this year," says Schaaf.
The best honey in the state is here, competing in a variety of competitions. Excelling in any competition requires a quality product as well as a fastidiousness to detail and following the rules carefully. One Maple Grove couple has excelled in the honey competition since starting out in 2009.
"Sandra Tschannen is one of our most intense competitors," says Schaaf. "The real key to her success is she's extremely detail oriented."
One of the Queen Bees
Sandy Tschannen is tough to beat. She's won the sweepstakes award and more than 50 ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair, but admits that the competition is for the fun of it.
"The competition is fierce and everyone does a fabulous job," says Sandy. "We'll just hope for the best."
Sandy and her husband, Ken Tschannen, have a honey farm in the unlikeliest of places.
"We happen to be located right in the middle of Maple Grove, which is strange to think about," says Sandy.
They have a 15-acre farm, bordered by parks and a grove of Basswood trees that helps create a very light shade of honey. They also have horses and sheep as well as a small vineyard.
"Ken's and my philosophy has always been when is the last time you did something for the first time?"
Starting a honey farm has been an adventure. They are the only honey farm in Maple Grove, so they are a hit at the Maple Grove Farmers Market for people seeking out locally produced honey.
But the Tschannens get a kick out of competing at the State Fair.
"Even the judges said we've never seen honey like this. Where's the honey? Maple Grove. Where's the hives? Maple Grove. They said no way," says Ken.
State Fair buzz...
This year's State Fair beekeepers and honey experts alike were abuzz that a new winner took top honors for sweepstakes.
"This year we had four to five competitors who were really close," says David Schaaf. "This is a very interesting year because we had a little of an upset."
Sandy's five-year sweepstakes honey run ended with a new sweepstakes winner. Schaaf emphasizes that Sandy's product wasn't substandard, but rather the level of competition is now much stiffer than it used to be.
"There's a number of other beekeepers who are picking up techniques and putting more time into it."
You could say the Tschannens have raised the bar on honey, while showing that it's the hobby, not the ribbons, that truly are the sweetest thing.
Shannon Slatton, reporting
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