McCoy Honey Company was founded in April of 1946, when Joseph L. McCoy and his wife Gloria purchased a bee business in Minden City, Michigan, from Garnett and Faye Puett. Garnett Puett was
a beeman and queen breeder who owned and operated Gold Leaf Apiaries in Hahira, Georgia. In the late1930’s and early 1940’s, he sent bees to Michigan during the spring and produced white clover honey at three locations in the Thumb. He and his wife spent the summers in Michigan and eventually built a new home in Minden City. Then in 1946, Garnett sold the business, the honey shop and house on Main Street to Joe and Gloria and returned to Georgia. He then continued to sell package bees and
queens from his home base in Hahira and operate his other honey locations in Michigan.
Joe McCoy Sr. began his career in the honey business when he was still a high school student. As a teenager growing up in Minden City, he worked part time for Garnett Puett, after school and especially in the summer. When he graduated from high school in 1939, he became a full-time employee and eventually ran the Puett honey operation in Minden City. Then in 1946, with the financial backing of his father-in-law, Herbert P. Schock, Joe Sr. and his wife Gloria bought the honey
business and the home on Main Street, and McCoy Honey Company was born.
After moving into the Puett house in Minden City, Joe Sr. began to expand the business. Unlike his predecessor he “winterized” the bees and kept them alive over the winter. In order to replace hives lost to “winter kill” and increase his bee numbers, he bought “package bees” in the spring from Puett in Hahira, Georgia, and had them shipped by train to the depot in Minden City.
Joe Sr. also made trips to Georgia in his truck to haul bees back to Michigan. Eventually, he owned and operated over eight hundred colonies of bees in Sanilac and Huron Counties.
Tom McCoy of Minden City, Joe’s older brother, was one of the first employees of the company. He specialized in extracting honey in the summer and fall and was an expert with the old-fashioned steam knife that was once used to uncap honey one comb at a time.
Joe Sr. also had help from his big family, especially in the summer when hive boxes were added to the colonies and in the fall when the bees were fed, wrapped with tar paper, and readied for winter. Family members bottled and labeled honey for sale to local customers and drew off honey in 60 pound cans for shipment to honey packers. They also built new combs for the hive boxes, putting the frames together, wiring them and imbedding the wax sheets to the wires.
A second generation of McCoy beekeepers began when Joe Jr. began working with his father in the bees. He was only twelve years old when he started, but by the time he was in high school, he was extracting honey during the summer and helping winterize bees in the fall.
After finishing high school Joe Jr. became a full time employee in the company. He worked with his father in the early 1960’s and eventually took over the business when Joe Sr. became the clerk of the Sanilac County District Court.
Tim, Al and Paul McCoy, three of Joe’s brothers, worked with him while they were in high school, and especially during their summer vacations. They “took off honey,” extracted it and “drew it off” in 55 gallon drums. Semi loads of honey were shipped from the bee shop in Minden City to Sioux Honey Company in Iowa and to other packers in Michigan. In the 1970’s McCoy Honey Company doubled in size and the business continued to expand.
In 1986, Tim McCoy purchased Jellinek Apiaries in Filion, Michigan, and set out on his own. For twenty years he owned and operated his own honey company in Huron County called “Sweetie Bee.” He then rejoined McCoy Honey Company, and combined the two businesses. Today, Tim continues to use his bee shop in Filion to extract honey for the company and ship it to buyers in Michigan.
McCoy Honey Company entered the pollination business in the ‘80’s when they began trucking a few bee hives to the Saginaw area to pollinate cucumbers and pickles. Eventually, pollination became a bigger and bigger part of the bee business in Michigan, especially as the “bee pastures” and honey sources began to disappear in the “Thumb.” Modern farming methods, a more aggressive approach to land use, and an increase in non-honey producing crops like sugar beets and corn made honey production more difficult.
Today, McCoy Honey Company is basically a pollination business – the bees pollinate apples, cherries, cranberries, pickles, cucumbers, pumpkins, and other vegetable crops. However, each summer and fall the family tradition continues as bee men from McCoy Honey fan out across the “Thumb” to produce, process and market quality Michigan honey.
In the early ‘80’s, McCoy Honey Company began “wintering” bees in Florida. At that time Mark McCoy, the youngest McCoy brother, was starting his own bee business in West Palm Beach. Today, Mark and his wife Elaine own and operate Sunny South Apiaries in Loxahatchee, Florida. Their two sons, Mark and Joey, and their daughter Ashley also work in the family business.
In the late ‘90’s McCoy Honey Company began sending bees to California in the winter and leasing them to the state’s almond growers. Bees are used extensively in California to pollinate the almond trees which bloom in mid-February to early March.
In 2006 Joe Jr. began dealing directly with the almond growers of the state. He increased the number of hives he rented to them and spent part of each winter in the almond orchards of California checking bees and monitoring the pollination process . Currently, McCoy Honey sends over five thousand hives to the Oakdale, California, to pollinate a small part of the state’s huge almond crop.
Also in 2006, McCoy Honey Company began pollinating “coast to coast” when the first bee hives from Michigan arrived in Cherryfield, Maine. Three semi-loads of bees were trucked to Washington County to pollinate the wild blueberry crop for Cherryfield Foods. The low bush wild blueberries blossom in May, and the bees are usually in the state until the middle of June. Now bees from McCoy honey travel to both coasts – from the almond orchards of California to the blueberry bogs of Down East Maine.
In 2010 Joe Jr. added a new stop in the “coast to coast” travel of the bees from McCoy Honey – Mississippi. Now, after the almond campaign, the bees are trucked to the McCary Bee Farm in Buckatunna, Mississippi. There they not only escape the uncertain early spring weather in Michigan, but they also “build up” and replenish their bee numbers and honey supplies. The bees are re-queened and the strong hives are split. This southern stop-over in Mississippi gets the bees ready for another year of pollinating crops and making honey.
In 2012, Nekoosa, Wisconsin, became the most recent stop on the bees’ yearly pollination itinerary. This time the bees traveled by semi to the bogs of the Wisconsin River Valley to pollinate cranberries for Arendt Cranberry Company and Wisconsin River Cranberry. This area along the Wisconsin River has been referred to as the cranberry “el dorado” of the country. Cranberries are big business in Wisconsin, and this is the newest out-of-state account.
Currently, McCoy Honey Company is managed by Joe McCoy Jr. He directs the day-to-day operations of the business, negotiates the pollination contracts and markets the honey. Joe owns the company along with his brother Tim. Tim became part-owner when he combined his Filion operation, Sweetie Bee, with McCoy Honey. Tim owns the shop where the annual honey crop is processed, and he often hauls honey and wax to local buyers. Another family member and longtime employee is Tom Halifax. He began working with his uncle Joe when he was still in grade school. Today, Tom owns his own bees and continues to work for McCoy Honey in Michigan. He also travels with the bees to California and Mississippi.
Roger Franzel, also from Minden City, is currently the foreman of daily operations. He manages the pollination campaign in Maine and California. His grandfather, Herman Oswald, was an old-time Michigan beekeeper who bought bees from Garnett Puett and sold honey in the Minden area.
Larry McCoy from Minden City also works part time for McCoy Honey. He is the son of Tom McCoy, the first employee that Joe Sr. hired when he started the company in 1946.
In 2011, McCoy Honey Company celebrated sixty-five years in business and a third generation of beekeepers began a new chapter in the company’s history. Ryan McCoy, Joe Jr.’s oldest son, quit his job as a policeman of ten years, and returned home to begin working in the family business. A few months later, he was joined by his brother Shawn, and he is now working in the bees. Brett, the youngest brother, is a “summer beeman,” because he is still in college, but that is how all the McCoys began their careers as beekeepers and honey producers.
Since 1946 McCoy Honey Company has continued to grow and prosper and now a third generation of McCoy beekeepers is on the scene. Together, they hope to expand the business and continue the family tradition of producing quality Michigan honey and providing first-class pollination services from Maine to California.
Note: Joe McCoy Sr. died in Minden City on June 30, 2013, in the house he and his wife bought in 1946. He was 92 1/2 years old. Gloria McCoy died in the same house on April 9, 2013. She was 90 years old.