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Brian Ojanpa, The Free Press of Mankato, Published June 01 2013

Owners of storied honey farm have sweet dreams

JANESVILLE, Minn. – A former Janesville bee farm is seeking a honey of a deal that would allow it to buzz anew.

The Hofmann Honey Farm, which began operations in the early 1900s and at one time was regarded as the largest honey producer in Minnesota, is in quest of placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Property co-owner Larry Hofmann said the cachet of such a designation could provide the impetus for fundraising to reincarnate the site as a working apiary plus a history and education showcase.

“With funding we could get this operational again and offer it to small-time beekeepers so they could have their (honey) extractions done here. Those hobbyists are growing rapidly,” Hofmann said.

Waseca County Historical Society Co-Director Joan Mooney said the educational component of the site would dovetail nicely with the Society’s overall efforts to keep local history, agriculture and horticulture alive.

“The more we can learn about bees the better,” she said, alluding to the insects’ vital role in the ecosystem.

“There are the kind of bees you can swat and the kind you don’t want to swat.”

Mooney was instrumental in setting into motion the process for National Register placement.

The first order of business was to secure a $6,500 state grant to pay for a historic evaluation of the property.

That was done recently by a St. Paul architectural preservationist, who will present his findings to the State Historical Preservation Office.

If that entity gives thumbs up, more grants could be made available to begin restoration on the honey house.

For placement on the National Register, architectural and historic components are typically the prime criteria. Mooney said national interest engendered by a nominated site also comes into play, and on that score the Hofmann operation appears solid.

“Larry’s dad and grandfather put it on the map nationally.”

Hofmann said his grandfather’s plunge into beekeeping was by happenstance.

“It was totally serendipitous how Emil started all this,” he said.

According to family lore, a swarm of honey bees one day landed on a bush near Emil Hofmann’s house.

The farmer was fascinated by how the bees grouped together and set about fashioning a makeshift hive. Sure enough, the bees crawled into it.

Several years later he was operating about 1,000 hives and shipping tons of honey. His son Charles took over operations in 1934, when the farm was reeling from debt and the Great Depression, and managed to save the business by securing a bank loan and halving the number of hives.

Larry Hofmann said that in his mind’s eye he sees the site as a purveyor of living, working history that could serve bee hobbyists’ needs while providing a learning experience for school groups and others.

He said he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself regarding any National Register placement, but he’s itching to move forward.

“Maybe we’ll put out some feelers for funding this summer.”