With more than 30 million workers, Paul Landsberg is the biggest employer in Henry County. He houses his employees on his 27-acre property, north of Tightwad, plus on 35 properties from Benton County to Cass County.
But they’re small.
Paul is a beekeeper who owns Paul’s Honey Farm, which he has built up into a wholesale business that continues to expand. By the end of the year, he will have doubled the number of workers.
“We started out this year with 500 to 600 hives and will end with 1,000 to 1,200,” Paul said.
There can be more than 40,000 bees in a hive. Paul is adding queen-rearing to his business offerings, and installed a new queen shack on the farm, which his friends call the “she shed,” and bought a queen incubator for it.
Queen-rearing will add a new income stream to the business, which sells honey, beeswax and hives to retail outlets. Another source is providing pollination services. In January, Paul loaded 480 hives on a semi, which took them to California, where they worked in an almond orchard.
“They are due back next weekend” Paul said. “When they get back, winter is over and it’s officially spring on the Honey Farm.”
It was Paul’s father, Christopher Landsberg, who started the family beekeeping business in 1983. His father was a mechanic, Paul said, but was looking for a way to augment the family income. They went to church with Hubert Smith, who owned Smith’s Honey Farm in Quarles. When Smith wanted to get out of the business, Paul’s father bought his bees, equipment and contracts. Paul was 3 years old.
“I remember riding around in the truck with my father,” Paul said.
In 1994, Christopher bought 27 acres near Tightwad and moved the bees and the family to the property, where he built a 3,200 square-foot warehouse plus a residence. Paul had some hives when he graduated from Windsor High School in 1999, he said, but his dad took them over when Paul went off to college, first at Kemper Military College in Booneville, then to Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
After college, Paul worked at an aluminum foundry in Warrensburg, then at Kansas City Power and Light as a power plant operator for 10 years, finishing his career at the Montrose Power Plant.
His father had become more of a hobby beekeeper, Paul said. In 2015, Christopher Landsberg was driving on Highway 7 to work at Tracker Marine, when he was killed in a head-on collision with a car that crossed the centerline.
The next year, Paul started “messing around with bees,” he said, but doesn’t quite know how he ended up as a beekeeper.
“I was just going to work with the bees until we got everything sold off,” he recalled. “When I told my wife I was thinking of running the honey farm, she said, ‘If you can make it work, go for it.’”
Work is the operative word. While the bees were busy at the almond orchard in California, Paul and his son Alan were in the wood shop, building nukes, as nucleus hives are called. Paul also rebuilt the “Bee Machine,” his old Bobcat, one of two he has on the farm.
“We don’t have a down season,” he said. “Bee season for us is pretty much all year long.”
The sojourn in California gives “the girls,” as he calls them, a month’s jump on spring, over Missouri bees who didn’t have a spring break. So when they return, they’ll hit the fields flying, ready to gather nectar and pollen, and to replenish the brood nest. For the next few months, Paul will be busy splitting hives to prevent them from swarming and going off, which bees will do when things get too crowded.
Then in May, the honey flow starts, when flowers bloom and the weather is optimum for flying. The flow continues through June.
“The bees make the honey,” he said. “We just make sure they have plenty of room, and go around and pull it off and extract it.”
His youngest son, Alan, helps him. A recent high school graduate, Alan has enlisted in the Air Force, so Paul is planning to hire some summer help, he said, and perhaps a full-time employee. Paul and Casey Landsberg have four children. Their older sons are 24 and 20. Michael is a lineman in North Carolina, and P.J. works for a contractor in St. Louis.
Their daughter Melissa is following in her mother’s footsteps and is going to nursing school. Casey is a registered nurse who is director of education at Golden Valley Health Care, and is studying to become a nurse practitioner.
Their vocations don’t afford much time off, Paul said, but the couple went off in early January on a busman’s holiday to “Hive Life,” a beekeeping conference in Tennessee. There were 2,000 people and beekeepers from nine countries, Paul said.
While beekeeping is a year-round occupation, the honey has two seasons. The bees make clover honey in the spring from yellow and white clover, Paul said, and a darker honey with a bolder taste and aroma in the fall. The honey is sold at Green Streets Market in Clinton and Donna’s Drive-in in Tightwad. Paul sells hives and bees through retailers in Urich, Marshall and Richmond. He also makes beeswax candles and sells beeswax by the block.
Paul is also vice-president of the Golden Valley Beekeeping Association. He gives programs on beekeeping in the area, and helped his sister, Henry County Prosecuting Attorney LaCrisha Gray, with her political campaign. Paul attends Calvary Baptist Church in Windsor, but when he was growing up, his family attended a Latter-Day Saints Church in Clinton, and his father was a preacher and a pastor.
His father was his best friend, Paul said, and his death at the age of 57 tested his faith. Working with bees has taught Paul spiritual lessons as well as the science of breeding and raising bees.
“I think if you open up a hive of bees and see how they work, you can’t help but believe that there is a creator,” Paul said.
Paul’s business has contracts with owners of “bee yards” that go back to when Peabody Coal Company was mining in the area, he said. The coal company sold its properties to farmers, who honored the contracts with Hubert Smith, then with Paul’s family to provide agricultural areas, called bee yards, for the bees to work, in exchange for a percentage of the honey.
“We didn’t tell the bees about my father’s passing,” Paul said, “but we did scatter some of his ashes on the properties that have been bee yards since my father was the beekeeper.”
Paul said he hopes one of his children will carry on the family business. Beekeeping gets in your blood, he said, adding that commercial beekeepers either started it as a hobby, with one or two hives in their backyard, or inherited the business. It’s a profession that more women are taking up, he said.
And beekeeping is less a case of the bees working for him, he said, than him working for the bees.