The California Honey Harvest Festival

When I received the email from Susan Golson to write an article for the Fillmore Gazette on the upcoming California Honey Harvest Festival to be held on June 9th and 10th from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm I didn't think it would be a very interesting article to research and write! I have to admit did I ever find that to be a false assumption on my part! I started my research on their very informative and professionally presented website and then made a visit to their farm to meet with Susie Alvary, Bennett's Honey Farm's Office Manager and a very knowledgeable person about the honey production business. I found my visit to Bennett's Honey Farm to be fascinating and I think the visitors to the California Honey Harvest Festival will be equally fascinated to learn about honey production in the Santa Clara Valley!

Susie told me the idea of the California Honey Harvest Festival is meant to be an educational opportunity for the public on the production of honey. To accomplish this there will be at least fifteen honey related vendors located at the Fillmore's Central Park, as well as bee keepers along the route the train will take to Bennett's Honey Farm. Once at the Honey Farm there will be an approximate 45 minute tour of the honey production plant at the production site providing valuable and educational information to visitors. Susie also told me the Festival and the tours are free, but the costs associated with the Festival are only for the train ride out to Bennett's Honey Farm and back to the Festival site in Fillmore's Central Park. Those visitors not wanting to ride the train are still encouraged to visit Bennett's Honey Farm by driving out and following the signs to Bennett's Honey Farm. Because some people are allergic to bee stings Susie asked me to make the public aware that bees are present throughout the Honey Farm and that there is a potential of a bee sting occurring. If you, or a family member has an allergy to bee stings please use caution in your decision to take this tour, or to be present where bees are active in pollination of crops throughout this Valley.

In a joint venture between Bennett's Honey Farm and the Fillmore & Western Railway the California Honey Harvest Festival will kick off the first of what will become an annual event in the City of Fillmore at Central Park next to City Hall, 250 Central Avenue. Visitors will be awed by the classic train ride from Fillmore's Central Park, through the citrus groves along SR-126 to Bennett's Honey Farm located between Fillmore and Piru. Visitors will disembark right at the Honey Farm where in the early days of the railroad there was a train stop located at that location. Prior to leaving Fillmore's Central Park on the train, along the way and after arriving at The Bennett's Honey Farm those riding the train will witness how honey is made and learn about the role flowers, bees, weather and humans play in this process. The train will pass through the Sommer's Ranch where bee keepers will be on hand to discuss their role in this honey production venture. The train leaves eastbound each day from Fillmore's Central Park at 10:00 am, 12:30 pm and 3:00 pm. Adult fares are $20, Seniors and Youths 4-12 years $15 and Children ages 2-3 $10. Children under 2 years of age and riding on a lap are free. Reservations for the train ride can be made at or by calling 524-2546.

While talking with Susie I had the good fortune of having both Red Bennett call Susie, from Colorado, for honey related business and Chip Vannoy, from North Dakota where he had taken bees for clover honey production. Bennett's Honey Farm is the home of the Piru Canyon Honey, Topanga Quality Honey and Topanga Quality Organic Honey private labels, and has been a long time family owned business in the Santa Clara Valley for over thirty years! It was founded by Red and Ann Bennett in 1978, at their ranch in Piru Canyon as a hobby and is currently owned, since January 2011, by Gilbert “Chip” and Taydee Vannoy.

Bennett's Honey Farm moved to it's current location in 2001 after a wildfire burned down their Honey Farm in Piru Canyon. Bennett's Honey Farm opened for business again after rebuilding at the current location in 2003. Red and Ann Bennett retired to Colorado, but are still very active in the business through their long-time relationship with the Vannoys. “Bennett's Honey Farm in the year 2005 produced 2% of all the honey in the United States and that same year won first place, world-wide, in Dublin, Ireland for their honey quality,” Red Bennett told me. He also told me, “Bee keeping is hard work and I am glad to be retired in Colorado!” Ms. Alvary said, “Bennett's Honey Farm extracts honey delivered to the Farm from approximately twenty-five independent bee keepers locally and throughout California.”

Mr. Bennett said, “Ventura County has a rich history of bee keeping dating back to the late 1800's when avocados and citrus were introduced to Ventura County and the bees pollinated the crops. He said, however, that the main source of honey, in this area, is from the native Sage that grows in the mountains throughout Ventura County.”

I first became aware of Bennett's Honey Farm when I moved to Fillmore in 1985 and lived at Lake Piru, in the campground, for about five months while my house was being built. I drove past the entrance to Bennett's Honey Farm both on my way to and home from work in Fillmore and it became a landmark to me as to how close I was to getting back to the winding road that led to the campground and Lake Piru! I even made a couple of visits to pick up honey to take back to my friends and family in Orange County.

Nearly all of their honey is produced in Ventura County where some of the best Sage and Wildflower fields can be found. For all of the thirty years Bennett's Honey Farm has been located in the Piru area; first up the Piru Canyon near Piru Lake and currently at 3177 E. Telegraph Rd. (SR 126), behind and up the road from the former Buckhorn School House (Bennett's Honey Farm has recently obtained the official address of 3176 Honey Lane, but it can't be found on any maps, or your GPS yet so continue to use the East Telegraph address if using a map or GPS!). Bennett's Honey Farm is surrounded by agriculture and the naturally vegetated hillsides that surround the Piru and Fillmore areas. They are open 7-Days a week, Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 to 6:00 pm. And you can view their website at or call them at 805-521-1375.

Honey that can be purchased at Bennett's Honey Farm is primarily from California and many from right here in Ventura County; Avocado, Black Button Sage, Buckwheat, Eucalyptus, Mixed Flower, Orange Blossom, Purple Sage, Cactus and Wildflower. Also available are Cat Claw from Arizona and Clover, and White Dutch from Montana. Organic Honey is not produced anywhere in the United States but comes to Bennett's Honey Farm from Canada and Brazil. All of the honey imported as Organic is tested by Bennett's Honey Farm to ensure that it is Organic. Honey can be purchased in forms: liquid honey, comb honey and comb in liquid honey. Bennett's Honey is also either certified Kosher, or certified Organic honey and can be purchased in quantities of one pound or less, one to five pounds, five to sixty pounds, bulk honey of barrels or larger and stick honey. Sales can be made direct to customers on-site, wholesale bottled to retailers and wholesale bulk.

Visitors to the Festival will learn, as I did, a lot about bees too! Bee production of honey is very dependent on the weather; primarily rain! As an example in 2005 the rainfall was abundant and directly impacted the growth of Sage and Wildflowers. This year the rain has been more sparse and honey production will be less bountiful which most significantly will reduce honey production and sales. I also learned the roles of the Queen Bee, other female bees and the drones in a bee colony. The worker bees and drone bees live only about six weeks and the Queen Bee can live up to about five years. Worker bees are always female, drones male and a drone only role is of breeding with the Queen Bee. Queen Bees are either genetically Italian, or Cornilian bees. The Vannoy's currently have about 5,000 colonies of bees whose genetics are Italian and European. Chip Vannoy said that he is, “Currently involved in their own 'Queen Rearing Program for selecting good genetics of his Queen Bees. He currently purchases his Queen Bees from Heitkam's Honey Bees in Orland, California.” Chip Vannoy said he transports his bees to North Dakota in late May for Clover Honey production from late May through late August.

Finally, Bennett's Honey Farm stresses their honey is naturally flavored from the flowers the bees pollinate and not filtered so that the taste and color of the flower is in their honey. Most honey on the store shelves is filtered and clearer in color than the process used by Bennett's Honey Farm to keep in the flavor and color of the flower. If the flower was an orange blossom it will taste and smell like an orange blossom! Red Bennett proudly proclaims, “We don't sell any honey that we won't eat! And that Honey is the soul of a field of flowers!” All Bennett Honey Farm products are California Certified Organic farmers “CCOF,” Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points“HACC”certified and Good Manufacturing Practices “GMP” certified. Bennett's Honey Farm is also a 100% solar operating business. In addition to in their Honey Store, Bennett's Honey Farm products and be found at local fruit stands and open-air markets in Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles Counties, Bennett's Honey can also be found and purchased at Whole Foods and Fresh and Easy Market locations.

After visiting Bennett's Honey Farm I am encouraged that this First Annual California Honey Harvest Festival will be a huge success for spreading the educational information about the value of Honey Bees and the research and effort Bennett's Honey Farm is making to accomplish this! Family events like the California Honey Harvest Festival, Thomas The Tank Engine, Fillmore Train Festival, Fourth of July Chili Cook-Off and Car Show and the many other events hosted here in Fillmore will bring many more out-of-the-area visitors to the Fillmore/Piru area to visit our Valley and enjoy what we all enjoy every day! Hopefully we all can support this event so that it will continue as an annual event.