Columbus resident grows hobby into business

September 27, 2018

Columbus resident Joe Frei found interest in beekeeping during his college years, but didn’t think much of it until much later when he established C & Czzz Bzzz.

“Just it being unusual,” the Chadron State College alumnus said, describing how beekeeping sparked his interest. “It’s just something different.”

This self-taught beekeeper opened his honey business 30 years ago after stumbling upon an ad for equipment, including hive boxes, and learned the ropes of the business from completing research and reading various books.

“It’s just trial and error,” Frei said.

Instead of buying bees, Frei said he spent the first 20 years catching his own swarm around his neighborhood. The task was not tough, he said, as long as one knows how to manage his or her fear of bees, which was never an issue for Frei.

Frei, who also juggles a full-time job in York, currently has more than 30 hives placed throughout the community and its surrounding areas. They are strategically placed near flower fields. Frei said some of his products require certain types of flowers to produce. He has several hives placed in a buckwheat field south of David City to produce buckwheat honey.

Frei said he tends to the hives at least once a week. He said the bees have required more attention the past few years because of the growing threats associated with pesticides, mites and disease, which have resulted in numerous insect deaths and an increased cost to maintain hives.

Lisa, Frei’s wife, helps out with the business by handling business marketing and upkeep.

“I feel like he’s done it for so long and he’s really an expert in the field of it now,” Lisa said.

Moving forward, Lisa said she hopes to hire help because some of the work is pretty strenuous.

“It’s heavy work because honey is heavier than water,” she said.

Just like any other agriculture crop, Lisa said honey has its peak seasons. She said honey is usually extracted between August and late September. She said anytime there are flowers blooming in the area, there’s honey.

Frei said that he has sufficient inventory to be sold to area customers throughout the winter months.

C & Czzz Bzzz honey products, which includes raw honey, flavored honey, honey mustard, butter and bee pollen, can be found at numerous craft shows and farmers markets statewide, as well as local stores like Mother Nature’s Emporium, 2707 13th St., and Red Apple Farmers Market Store, 2624 23rd St.

“Like the honey butters and honey mustards, I make it the way I like to eat it,” Frei said.

Frei also sells his product from home and accepts special requests like gift baskets.

Throughout the years, Frei said he’s built a strong customer base, which includes regulars and out-of-state customers. He said he’s received orders from places like Arizona and Hawaii.

Frei said that his operation is state inspected, something that separates himself from other honey producers. Frei said it helps build consumer trust by ensuring his facilities meet state regulations in terms of cleanliness and food standards.

“I meet all the criteria for state inspection; like the food handling permit,” he said.

Before sending products out to the market, Frei has them tested at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ensuring they meet the state’s food standards and to make sure they don’t go bad.

Frei said he’s mentored several individuals who showcased interest in beekeeping and is currently showing two community members various aspects of the honey business.

Frei also travels throughout Platte County and its surrounding communities giving presentations and demonstrations about beekeeping and the honey business.

“It’s kind of a stress reliever for me because when I work the bees, I don’t think of anything else,” he said. “I just concentrate on them.”

Those wishing to purchase C & Czzz Bzzz honey products are encouraged to call Frei at 402-910-1842.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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