By Adam Altobella
He meticulously slips on his protective equipment piece-by-piece, and despite this extra weight fastened to his body, he joyfully leaves his home. As he walks through his family’s wild prairie, he hears the sweet tune of bees nearby. Once he arrives at the source of this crescendo of buzzing, he quickly looks into an unassuming container and finds what he was eagerly awaiting — a sweet batch of honey.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s most recent reports, there are about 115,000 beekeepers who produce over 1.47 million pounds of raw honey for consumption. Although it is apparent that only a small percentage of the United States population participates in the unique art of beekeeping, senior Riley Brand, a member of the Delta High School hive, is an avid beekeeper who buzzes under the radar.
Brand, a member of the school’s FFA chapter, has long been infatuated with agriculture and animal production. And, when he received a beehive in the spring of 2020, he began to think of beekeeping as another outlet to further his agricultural and entrepreneurial expertise — and as an avenue to rid himself of boredom during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve always been interested in all things agriculture and decided to try my hand at it [beekeeping],” Brand said.
Although he had no prior experience in handling bees and had little of the necessary beekeeping equipment, he quickly began to build strong beekeeping skills. Brand extensively researched the topic through various YouTube videos and also simply learned “on the fly.” In addition to his self-taught beekeeping skills, he used his natural crafting expertise to build much of the equipment that he lacked.
Although Brand’s work ethic and devotion may sound incomprehensible to outsiders, his father and Delta science teacher, Dr. Lance Brand, did not find his meteoric rise in beekeeping to be too surprising.
“There are people who talk about doing things and there are people who get it done, and Riley has always been the latter,” Dr. Brand said. “Once Riley sets his mind to something he’s fully in. He’ll learn all he can, he’ll think it through, and he’ll solve any problems in his path.”
With Brand’s strong determination and budding skills in the unique art of beekeeping, he set out to collect his first batch of raw honey.
After several trying summer months that seriously tested his beekeeping skills, Brand’s determination paid off when he earned the “sweet reward of honey.” Following what he describes as a “delicate” process of his fall honey harvest, he quickly sold his inventory within 10 minutes.
With his first successful honey harvest in the books, Mrs. Nancy Kunk, the sponsor of Delta’s FFA chapter, encouraged Brand to look into applying for the Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) grant, one of FFA’s signature grant programs.
“He [Riley] is very helpful, and he has always been one of the go-to kids that we’ve always been able to count on,” Kunk said.
Brand realized that this $1,000 grant would allow him to bolster his beekeeping company, so he decided to complete an application for the SAE grant. The SAE application not only required Brand to write an essay in regards to how the grant would benefit his beekeeping business, but it also required him to produce a detailed budget, which he found to be the application’s most difficult aspect.
With the application process behind him, Brand awaited the decision from the national FFA organization. And, in December 2020, he received word that he was selected as a recipient of the 2020 SAE grant, which was awarded to only 14 FFA students from Indiana.
Brand, his family, and the greater Delta FFA community were grateful for the opportunity and recognition, and he looks forward to putting his grant award to good use in his beekeeping company.
“It’s a very big deal because those SAE grants are from applications from all over the United States,” Kunk said. “And, for Riley to get one, it was a very big honor.”
Although Brand has not made any concrete decisions for the allocation of the funds, he plans to purchase more beehives and a honey centrifuge (a high-tech device that allows for easier honey extraction).
Although the SAE was Brand’s most evident benefit from his four-year FFA experience, both he and his family expressed how instrumental Delta’s FFA chapter has been in equipping him with skills that can be applied to a broad set of situations.
“FFA is a great organization which has presented many great opportunities and introduced me to many amazing people,” Brand said.
His father, Dr. Brand, added that he is “just really thankful that Riley had the opportunity to be so involved in the FFA program,” and that Riley’s FFA experiences have “provided a lot of personal growth, especially in confidence and leadership skills.”
Brand plans to pursue his agricultural interests at Huntington University, where he intends to study agricultural business with a focus in animal production.
Throughout FFA’s illustrious 93-year history, numerous aspiring entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry, ranging from Taylor Swift to Jim Davis, have soared to great heights in a wide variety of fields.
Brand, like other FFA members, is aware of those who have come before him; however, as one can tell, he does not tend to walk along the worn trail. Instead, Brand has set his sights on blazing his own trail and buzzing above the rest.