Salt and honey: A look into the industries at the heart of Utah
Photo by Jahmanz Williams | Unsplash
Honey and salt. Two simple nouns that, in Utah, can carry a lot of weight. Honey because the bees that create it inspired the Beehive State moniker Utah is known by. Salt for that famous body of water we so desperately need to save. Beyond symbols, the beehive and our state’s incredible supply of salt represent industries that many locals are active participants in—and make being sweet and salty a whole lot more meaningful.
A sweet ecosystem
Mike Browning recalls spending his summer months in Idaho learning the way of beekeeping from his grandparents. His initiation began at the age of three years old. Sixty-four years later, Browning still finds himself fascinated by the life of bees.
Browning—who is the fourth generation of a five-generation beekeeping family—and his business partner, Cody Lott, are entering their fourth year of owning and operating Honey Bear Hives, a northern Utah beekeeping company.
Honey Bear Hives has bee colonies placed in various locations throughout the state: near the Great Salt Lake, Davis County and Syracuse. Many of their colonies dwell on the land of local farmers and ranchers—rent paid annually in the honey they produce.
“You get away from the hustle and bustle [of the] city. Some of the places we go are just so pristine and beautiful,” Browning says. “That’s one of the big aspects of it. The other part is the bees. Bees are just fascinating. Helping them survive and thrive as a colony is fascinating work.”
Despite the romanticism that working among bees conjures, Browning admits that Utah is a less-than-ideal location for beekeeping. “The drought in the past couple of years has really affected beekeeping in the state,” Browning says. “When it’s too dry, we may have flowers, but they might not have any nectar.”
Rain is an important factor in keeping bees alive and enabling them to pollinate. Bees derive nectar from flowers that rely on moisture to produce it. Without that nectar, bees don’t have anything to forage. Ironically, Lawn Love reported the Beehive State to be the third worst in the United States for beekeeping in 2023.
“I would say that the reason people are beekeeping here is not because they sought Utah out as the place to do beekeeping,” Browning says. “It’s more they had an interest in beekeeping, and this is where they were.”
Utah State University reports over 700 beekeepers in Utah. A honey bee survey and report conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated that, in 2022, 26,000 honey-producing colonies in Utah produced $3,588,000 worth of honey. Most of the state’s commercial hives are transported to California to provide pollination services for almond crops. NAS’s pollination report claims that, in 2022, the average price paid by California almond growers was $194—which suggests that the value of pollination services for almonds provided by Utah’s beekeepers in 2022 was approximately $5 million.
Honey bees were introduced to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848, but there is still much to be learned in the way of data-gathering about how beekeeping truly benefits the state and its residents. One benefit is certain no matter how it’s measured: Bees are an important component of our ecosystem. “Bees are critical to pollination of a lot of plants that we need to grow food,” Browning says.
"Beyond symbols, the beehive and our state’s incredible supply of salt represent industries that many locals are active participants in—and make being sweet and salty a whole lot more meaningful."
Salt of the earth
Though he grew up near the Redmond Salt mines in Sevier County, Rhett Roberts didn’t necessarily plan to go into the business of salt. But in 1999, that’s exactly what he did.
After years of providing consultative and management services, Roberts bought Redmond Clay and Salt from the Bosshardt family, becoming CEO and owner of what is now Redmond, Inc., a parent company with one of its subsidiaries being Redmond Real Salt.
The Great Salt Lake may be Utah’s obvious landmark for all things salt (the famous body of water brings over $1 billion to the state each year through mineral extraction), but the Redmond Salt mines have been making rounds in headlines—both for its otherworldly surroundings 350 feet underground and the color of its mineral salt.
“It’s different than the salt that comes from the Great Salt Lake and has some different uses,” Roberts says. “It’s reddish in color because it’s full of trace minerals, so that’s why it’s really good for agriculture and human [use]. It also actually helps it perform better on the roads for wintertime road maintenance.”
Redmond miners excavate salt from an ancient seabed that yields 50,000 pounds of salt per day. Roberts says that, though mining on the property may have started in 1925, there’s evidence to suggest Indigenous tribes that inhabited the area centuries ago were going to the deposit to get salt. “It’s been around a long time,” he says.
Redmond Real Salt boasts of providing unrefined sea salt mined from a location safe from modern pollutants, a perk of being protected by layers of volcanic ash and clay. Salt mined at the Redmond mines offers excellent nutritional benefits due to the over 60 trace minerals it contains, but human consumption drives only a portion of Redmond’s production goals.
“We’re involved a lot in agriculture and the de-icing markets,” Roberts says.
The company also specializes in bath salts and body care products. Roberts says that part of what makes owning a salt company in Utah fun is being directly tied to one of the very things that make the state unique.
“There are not a lot of places that have salt,” he says. “The Great Salt Lake is so unique in the world. The salt itself is important. It has unique properties and mineral qualities.”
The Utah Geological Survey Utah Mining 2021 publication reports that salt production amounted to about 3.3 million tons in 2021, with a production value estimated at $200 million. Of the seven salt mine companies operated in Utah, Redmond stands out as the oldest of only two that are homegrown, with Willow Creek Salt—which opened seven years ago—being the other.
Down in the mines, temperatures hover at around 55 degrees year-round, and breathing in the salty air can have health benefits, which makes being a salt miner for Redmond a major perk. Roberts says that one of the company’s missions is to ensure that miners and all Redmond Real Salt employees love what they do.
“If we can impact the way people experience work and do work, I believe work can be done in such a way that not only are you more successful economically, but that at the same time, it can elevate the lives of customers and employees just by the way you do business,” Roberts says.