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Utah company's honey business changes lives in Africa

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Aseda honey is sold in 44 Utah stores and shops. The company hopes to go nationwide and is using the Kicktarter crowd-funding tool to grow.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah company is creating a lot of buzz because of what it sells — honey.

Aseda Raw Honey has an unusual business plan. It's a plan that's changing lives of people in remote villages in central Ghana in western Africa.

"I stared into this beautiful gallon of the darkest, most richest honey that I thought I had ever seen," said Aseda president and founder Anthony Baron Kirk, on his first encounter with the honey. "Immediately my curiosity was piqued."

Kirk set out to discover where this unusual, dark, thick honey came from. He found it thousands of miles away in a remote part of western Africa.

In 2009, he traveled to Ghana to meet with Oheneba Nana Kwasi Agyemang, chief of the Kyidomhene tribe. Through this meeting, a relationship was created between Aseda and various Dagomba villages that raise native Ghanaian honey bees in the Molé National Forest.

"You get this feeling that it's just ancient, like being back in time 100 years," Kirk said. "It's pristine — no environmental pesticides, no agriculture, very remote, very tribal living."

He traveled to small villages, meeting with the residents and tribal leaders and developing a plan to bring the honey to Salt Lake City.

The honey is darker than typically found in Utah because bees are buzzing around vegetation not found in Utah, such as a cacao and Shea trees and calabash bushes.

"The thing that's fun about honey is that, wherever you go, honey is different, and that's because of the geography, the local plants," Kirk said.

The company's mission is to support the people in the villages and increase opportunities for them, such as having access to clean water and education, as well as supporting the actual beekeeping operation.

Aseda has provided the resources for local residents to build 750 beehive boxes and place them throughout the forest. The company has produced steady new jobs and income for villagers.

"There are 33 villages in the Molé National Forest," Kirk said. "And if we can begin with a few — we have six right now — we can spread this throughout the rest of the villages," he said.

"We're working with the Gonjas. We're working with the Ashanti-Twi, the Dagomba tribes on the other side of the world," said Bessie McIntosh, Aseda's vice president of sales. "And here, we are in Utah bringing in the beautiful honey cooperatively with our partners in Ghana."

Last year, the company bought about 4,000 pounds of honey from the beekeepers in Ghana. This year, Aseda expects to double that amount.

For the past two years, the honey has been sold in 44 Utah stores and shops, but the company would like to expand.

"Right now, we want to go big time," Kirk said. "We want to make this to shelves nationwide."

Aseda harvests in the spring and fall, so the next shipment of 55-gallon drums of the honey will arrive soon. The honey will be sent to Logan, where it is packaged in jars and packets, and then shipped to distributors.

E-mail: kmccord@ksl.com

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