Meet the Queen Bee of Honey

Jodie Drange is abuzz about agriculture

You could call Jodie Drange, owner of Drange Apiary, the queen bee of agriculture. Recently crowned as the 2024 Montana Elite Miss Agriculture USA, she’s abuzz with enthusiasm about sharing her passion for the industry. She echoes the spirit of an emerging queen in a hive, who captures the attention of her subjects by tooting sounds that announce her presence and command attention.

“I love the advocacy, educating people on the importance of agriculture, the importance of bees in agriculture,” Jodie says.

In June, Jodie will be competing for the national title. The Miss Agriculture USA organization is a national nonprofit group that celebrates and promotes livestock and crop production, aquaculture, fisheries, and forestry for food and non-food products. Established in 2018, the group honors the work of those who have been strong advocates for agriculture while empowering the winners with programs that build self-esteem, hone public-speaking skills and develop leadership strengths.

Jodie admits to having some trepidation about competing for the national title.

“I haven’t done anything like this before,” she says. “My strategy is to trust myself and be myself.” The judges rate the candidate on a written essay, an oral interview, a speech, responses to an impromptu interview session, evening dress, and ag wear representing their home state.

Jodie, who has always loved the outdoors, admits, “I was a tomboy. I loved to play outside.” At 13, as a lover of animals, especially rabbits, she joined the 4-H in Ohio.

She mostly raised Rex and Jersey Woolies breeds of rabbits, noting, “I helped the Jersey Woolies to become a recognized breed.” She also raised Standard Chinchilla, Holland Lop, Angora and American rabbits. In 1985, with an American Sable rabbit, she won Best of Breed at the National Rabbit Convention.

Her affection for the West was seeded in 1984 when her 4-H advisers drove a group of participants from their hometown of Akron, Ohio, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the National Rabbit Show. On that trip, after witnessing cowboys moving cattle, she says, “I always knew I would be on a farm.”

College took her to Ohio State University, where she met her husband, Andy. Jodie graduated with a degree in agricultural research, although she wanted to pursue a degree in the study of sheep and goats.

“My parents said that I would never use that degree,” she says, but she now owns Drange’s Meat Goats, where she runs a commercial herd of 40 animals, including breeding lines from Maverick Show Goats from Windy Acres Boers in Texas, and Chase Taylor Show Goats in Wyoming. 

During the Christmas holidays in 1987, Andy brought Jodie to his hometown of Big Timber to spend time with his family and introduce her to his old stomping grounds. People teased Jodie about wanting to return to Montana, but she says with a laugh, “I was in love.” 

In the late 1980s, after Andy and Jodie settled under the Big Sky, he worked for the state as a bee inspector while she was employed by a genetics lab for bull studs. On the side, he worked with a beekeeper, using his college degree in commercial beekeeping. His skill and love of beekeeping came from his boyhood observation of wild beehives. After working for a commercial beekeeper for 15 years, he decided to buy their current business when Beartooth Apiaries became available for purchase. The Dranges expanded the operation from 1,500 to more than 5,000 hives.

In time, the Dranges expanded their family to four with the births of Spencer and Jasmine. These days, Spencer works for the family business while Jasmine teaches elementary school.

Jodie is currently the president of the Yellowstone County Farm Bureau. Rikki Swant, director of membership and business development at the Montana Farm Bureau Federation says, “She’s passionate about education, whether it’s personal/professional growth for herself and her business or Agriculture Literacy/Agriculture Education for youth in our community and state.” Serving as president, she “participates in our policy development process, helping craft resolutions to be considered for our annual policy.”

“She has shared our booths at the MontanaFair and NILE, explaining to kids and adults where foods come from,” Rikki says. “She volunteers her time to read our “Ag Accurate” books to elementary students and often brings along an activity to apply what the students just learned.”

“People are three generations away from agriculture,” Jodie says. “Kids need to know where their food comes from, where the clothes on their back come from, and how important agriculture is to the world they live in, from pollination to forestry practices.”

On the Drange Apiary Facebook page, Jodie keeps followers up to date on what’s happening in their business with her “What we are doing Wednesday!” At the beginning of the year, Drange Apiary starts selling nucs or splits, nucleus colonies that are small honeybee colonies for the creation of new hives. The core colonies are put on trucks and shipped to California, where the bees work on pollinating the blooming almond trees. When they return, they go to work to produce honey. The sweet liquid is extracted a couple of times in the summer months. Then, honey is delivered to those farmers, who “rent” space planted with clover or alfalfa where the Dranges keep their bees. The bees are then put into hibernation in a potato cellar in Idaho in the fall before the cycle begins again.

During National Honey Month in September, Jodie reported, “We are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully by next week all the honey will be pulled off the hives and extracted. We’re looking at around a 100-pound average for this year. We are so excited after the last three years.” Montana ranks in the top five states in honey production.

Aside from sharing the cycle of the activity of bees, Jodie touts the purported benefits of this liquid gold that improves digestion, lowers blood sugar and heals wounds while providing relief for coughs and allergies. Lighter color honey is sweeter, while the darker version is stronger in flavor.

Jodie passionately continues to set the record straight, making sure the public knows what the real buzz is about honey.

Baking with Honey Hints

From the American Honey Producers Association

  • Replace each cup of sugar with ⅔ to ¾ cup of honey
  • Reduce liquids by ¼ cup per each cup of honey
  • Add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda per cup of honey
  • Lower oven temperature by 25 degrees when substituting to prevent over-browning 


  •  1 c. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ⅓ c. honey
  • 2 T. confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ t. salt

In a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Beat in honey, sugar and salt until smooth. Serve drizzled with honey. Cover butter and store in refrigerator for up to a week. Recipes makes about 1-1/3 cups. 

Honey Cake

  • 1¼ c. unbleached flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • ½ t. baking soda
  • ¼ t. salt
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • ¼ t. nutmeg
  • ¼ t. cardamom
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ c. vegetable oil
  • ½ c. honey
  • ½ c. hot black tea
  • ½ c. sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla

Cream cheese frosting

  • ½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • ¼ t. salt
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • Fresh berries and edible flowers for garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease sides of 9-inch springform pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, honey, tea, sugar and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cake cool. Remove from pan and frost with cream cheese frosting, garnishing with fresh berries and edible flowers, if desired. 

In a medium bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese until creamy. Mix in salt and vanilla. Add powdered sugar until combined. Recipe serves 8. 


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