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Pollinator-Friendly Solar Arrays in Minnesota Now Commercially Produce Honey

Image Credit: Prairie Restoration, Inc.

Minnesota’s largest member-owned electric cooperative Connexus Energy is making solar sweeter at its community solar garden in Ramsey, MN where it is now producing honey.

Bolton Bees has installed 15 beehives at Connexus Energy’s SolarWise garden and will be managing and expanding the hives throughout the summer.

“We believe our SolarWise solar garden is the first in the country that will be producing commercially available honey,” said Samantha Neral, a spokesperson for Connexus Energy. “Following Minnesota’s adoption of a law and statewide standard for pollinator-friendly solar, our array was evaluated and scored well above the level required to call it an ‘exemplary pollinator habitat.’ To us, beehives at a pollinator-friendly solar garden seems like the natural next step. Bolton Bees — with their expertise, professionalism and commitment to site-specific honey — was the right partner.”

Pollinator-friendly solar arrays are planted with a biodiverse mix of low-growing and shade-tolerant flowers and grasses, as opposed to more traditional turf grass and gravel. In 2016, agricultural, conservation and energy leaders in Minnesota established the nation’s first statewide standard for pollinator-friendly solar in an effort to help Minnesota’s bee, monarch, pheasant and songbird populations.

Bolton Bees breeds Minnesota-hardy queen bees in addition to producing a line of location-specific honey. “We carefully select properties throughout Minnesota for our apiaries. With its abundance of pollinator-friendly flowers, the Connexus solar garden is the perfect environment for a healthy bee location,” said Travis and Chiara Bolton of Bolton Bees.

The partnership between Connexus and Bolton Bees provides an example of the unique potential of solar sites, which is exactly what Minnesota energy nonprofit Fresh Energy had in mind when it introduced the two companies. “Nationwide, many communities are interested in ensuring the productive use of farm and rural lands — Connexus Energy’s bird- and pollinator-friendly solar array shows that solar sites can be designed and managed in ways that have numerous agricultural and environmental benefits,” said Rob Davis of Fresh Energy.

The solar garden’s first batch of honey will be ready for harvest this fall, with a portion of the honey being named SolarWise Honey after the Connexus’s solar garden program and will be given to solar garden subscribers and donated to local community fundraising events.

In order to establish and industry standard for honey produced on or adjacent solar arrays, Bolton Bees have registered a Federal Trademark (Serial #87406579) for Solar Honey™. In Solar Honey™ standard encourages the creation of new foraging habitat for a wide variety of pollinators, birds and other wildlife. They plan to make the trademark available to all honey producers, electric cooperatives, food companies and solar businesses meeting the following conditions:

  • Apirary is adjacent or within a pollinator friendly solar array one acre or larger;
  • Solar site in question scores 70+ on a Solar Site Pollinator Habitat Planning and Assessment form;
  • Producer provides an explanation of the honey extraction and bottling process used to ensure the honey is not mixed with honey from other sources.

Libby MacCarthy was previously an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands, based in Toulouse, France. She is a former urban planner specializing in sustainable cities and an urban farming and film photography enthusiast. She holds a BA in Environment, Society and… [Read more about Libby MacCarthy]

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