East Hill Honey Interview

Speaker 1: Alright. So the first question is pretty general. Just how did you get into beekeeping?

Speaker 2: Well, I had a friend, it was kind of a friend of a friend I guess {inaudible 00:12}. He was moving from Jacksonville to San Diego and like any good beekeeper, he wanted to bring his bees with him. But he didn’t have a pickup truck, so he packed them inside his car. He could have kind of enclosed the hive a bit. Anyhow, they were in the backseat of his car and he swerved to Mrs. Semi truck, pulling into his lane. He was on the Pensacola Bay bridge at the time.

Speaker 1: Oh my gosh.

Speaker 2: And the bees toppled over inside his car and {inaudible 00:45} up, I went, Frank Raleigh and I got on one of these {inaudible 00:51} like 20,000 bees crawling all over me.

Speaker 1: Geese

Speaker 2: So, Frank knowing that I enjoyed the outdoors and gardening and stuff like that, subsequently got me kind of hooked into it. And so it started really with just two hives in our backyard. Are you still there?

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: And from there the hobby kind of blossomed into a sideline business and then full time.

Speaker 1: Awesome, so can you talk about that process a little bit more? So, it was two hives and then where did it go from there?

Speaker 2: Yeah, so in 2011, we started with two hives and we produced a couple of hundred pounds of honey that first year.

Speaker 2: And we sold that honey in a matter of a week and a half and that kind of got my wheels turning at the time. I thought, maybe there’s something to this, let’s see. So, from that point, I was kind of looking for a transition from my current job. I was an executive director for a nonprofit and just wanted to be home more. We just had our first child and wanted something more land based and kind of what’s happening in an agrarian convergence, so to speak.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: We live in the middle of the city. So I saw this kind of as a potential outlet for that. And additionally, my ability to market far exceeded my ability to produce the honey. So, we actually kind of created an informal cooperative with other local beekeepers. And you had 5 to 10 beekeepers and anywhere from a hundred to 500 hives each. And we would essentially aggregate the honey that they produced and market it. It was produced locally and marketed and sold it locally. But the desire was always to kind of have a self produced business and kind of become a commercial beekeeper. So, I basically leveraged my ability to market and sell local honey. And then also kind of through the friendships of these other beekeepers, I kind of learned the trade, how to keep bees alive and then scale it and basically become a commercial beekeeper over the course of the next about seven to eight years.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: {Inaudible 03:39} right now we have about 500 colonies.

Speaker 1: Wow. So, when you were starting out, like, did you reach out to any beekeeping associations or did you already know some beekeeping friends or how did that go?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I was a part of the {inaudible 03:56} County for Beekeeping Association.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: Did stuff with them and so that was where I met several of the beekeepers that purchased honey initially.

Speaker 1: Right. And so then you started out like a farmer’s market?

Speaker 2: Yeah, the principal of Pallet Box Farmer’s Market.

Speaker 1: Cool.

Speaker 2: It was kind of our launching platform and we just trial and error of different products. We wanted to basically have one or two products to 40 different products and it was just a great place to kind of see what stuck, what didn’t, what people wanted, what people didn’t want. And once we got a commercial kitchen and a certified {inaudible 04:47} house, we were able to start packing and selling honey to retailers as well. We sold to about 50 different stores around the greater {inaudible 04:56} of Metropolis.

Speaker 1: You said 50?

Speaker 2: 50, yeah.

Speaker 1: Okay, awesome. So, what is the most interesting thing you’ve learned about bees since you became a beekeeper?

Speaker 2: I mean the whole thing’s fascinating. I would say, the thing that intrigued me the most is just the impact that the bee has on the hive. In particular her {inaudible 05:42}, her bloodline, like one help one basically. Yeah. The queen kind of dictates not only the temperament, but how productive the colony is and how resistant to disease or pests and whatnot. So, that’s extremely fascinating to me and kind of how to constantly improve the genetic stock that we have is something that I think is endless amongst the beekeeper, is my impression as far as tracking the perfect queen, so to speak.

Speaker 1: Right. Do you have any like favorite resources that you like to listen to or websites?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I mean there’s several pages on Facebook, like commercial beekeeping farms and Dr. Taylor, he’s written several books on beekeeping and I really enjoy his content and I mean the {inaudible 07:07} Dan sounds produced.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: That’s a constant resource that I reference a couple of things.

Speaker 1: Okay, cool. So, with Eastol Honey, so you guys are just solely a honey business, you don’t sell bees or do queens or anything, or do any mentoring?

Speaker 2: We sell bees in the spring.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: {Inaudible 07:38} colony, and then we just started having to have pollination. Doing some pollination projects.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: Yeah. But primarily honey is our primary gig.

Speaker 1: Right. So, kind of following up on the most interesting thing, what is the most challenging thing about being a beekeeper and running a honey business?

Speaker 2: Well, like any small business and being self-employed I would say just managing everything that is going on. At times it seems like it’s kind of a convoluted mess.

Speaker 1: Yeah, obviously.

Speaker 2: I mean, managing yourself, managing your time, kind of determines where your time is best spent. And then if you have help kind of where and how to enable them and give them kind of the vision to run with. And so I would say just the management of one’s psych scheduling and this kind of orchestration of this thing that produces honey and sells honey especially during the springtime.

Speaker 1: Yeah. It’s very hectic.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 1: Yeah. A lot going on.

Speaker 2: A lot, kind of insanity.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: But it’s really satisfying to timeout where your bees are basically the perfect strength and they’re on a perfect flow and you’re just making as much honey as you can put up and keep up with my {inaudible 09:37}. So, there’s radial satisfaction and kind of working with the lands in conjunction with mother nature and the bees and just trying to kind of ride the wave so to speak.

Speaker 1: Absolutely. So, when you were first learning about bees, did you have a specific mentor or a couple people?

Speaker 2: Yeah, there was one person, so Shelby Johnson, he was the president of the {inaudible 10:12} County Beekeeping Association who kind of got me up the learning curve initially. And then another gentleman, Jamie Holcomb, Shelby’s kind of more of those hobby sideline guys. He probably had about a hundred hives but he took care of those hundred hives really well and was into breeding queens and whatnot. So, I would say initially he definitely played a role in helping me along the way. And then Jamie Holcomb, he runs about 5,000 colonies. So, kind of a full scale commercial, and we had a relationship. We worked together for three or four years and that was really just learning bee systems and I had a place in {inaudible 11:09} that kind of {inaudible 11:10} yeah, just the self management and the timing.

Speaker 1: Yeah, you said 5,000 hives?

Speaker 2: 5,000.

Speaker 1: Wow. Yeah. That’s a big operation for sure.

Speaker 2: Yeah. So, it just gives you a completely different perspective on that. Yeah. I mean, what you can and can’t do, I mean, you can’t sit and baby one hive for hours and hours, because it’s just not feasible to do that 5,000 times. So, you kind of learn when to cut your losses and when to invest time and money into the bees and everything. Ultimately, I think it’s made me a better beekeeper, both perspectives, kind of one seeing have a quality smaller approach and then also seeing the larger kind of the efficiencies were different and the systems were different. But there’s something {inaudible 12:07} from both those spectrums.

Speaker 1: Was there anything, any of them taught you through that mentorship that specifically stuck out?

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 1: Obviously a lot, but you know, there’s one key thing that maybe just set it apart or, that’s a great tip for beginner beekeepers.

Speaker 2: Beekeeping people focus on the bees, which obviously it’s necessary. But I would say almost equally important is understanding the local environment and the {inaudible 13:04} schedule and all the {inaudible 13:07} that we use and that either their behavior is typically a reflection of what’s blooming and what’s not blowing. That kind of will shape your management style and when you have to do certain things and when you don’t do certain things. So, I think that’s something that was initially overlooked on my part. It was like, oh yeah, the bees the bees, but I failed to really understand the local dynamics of the bloom. So, once I kind of really dialed that in, kind of became a botany nerd and learning flowers and the beekeeping kind of came full circle.

Speaker 1: Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 2: So, I would say that was something that they pressed. In particular, Jamie, Mr. Holcomb.

Speaker 1:And for Jamie how long has he been beekeeping?

Speaker 2: I think since 1988 full time.

Speaker 1: And do you know if it was like a multi-generational thing or he just started doing it on his own?

Speaker 2: I think he’s a second generation and that his sons are kind of carrying on, so, they’re about my age.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: So they’re under the third generation.

Speaker 1: Awesome, okay so what would you say is the most rewarding part about beekeeping and having your own honey business?

Speaker 2: Well, I think a lot of self-employed people would probably say this, but it’s basically an equation of what you put into it is what you get out of it.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: And specifically with beekeeping, you kind of have one shot to pass the test for the season. So, if the bees aren’t ready {inaudible 15:12} November, December, January, February and then April and May, when they’re needed to make {inaudible 15:21}, you make honey. So, there’s diligence throughout the year that pays off once a year kind of thing. And so seeing it pay off and seeing the crop come in and everything kind of comes to fruition, according to the plan that you formulated on paper or in your head the year before is extremely satisfying.

Speaker 1: Awesome, so where Easton Honey is that now? You said you’re doing 50 restaurants locally, so how many people do you guys employ?

Speaker 2: So, we have one gentleman that helps us with our marketing and sales and kind of delivery and then another team {inaudible 16:24} who helps pack all the honey throughout the year and then seasonally I’ll probably hire one other person would be to during the peak season to help with extracting honey and stuff.

Speaker 1: So, you guys still have a somewhat like small core team?

Speaker 2: Yeah. So that’s about it.

Speaker 1: Okay. So as a beekeeper, what would you want to see in the world ideally?

Speaker 2: {Inaudible 17:04}

Speaker 1: What was that?

Speaker 2: It would be nice {inaudible 17:21}

Speaker 1: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.

Speaker 2: I was like 30% {inaudible 17:27}

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: So, I would like to see a greater awareness of the need for bees and bits of honey.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: But as a beekeeper what I see though, there’s a lot of cheap foreign honey that is bought and then blended with the American honey sides.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: I’d say, I would like to see more integrity in the packing business and their distinct labeling not trying to deceive the public. Most beekeepers that sell in bulk are getting like less than $2 a pound, I mean, for the {cross talk 18:17}

Speaker 1: Yeah. It’s just not okay.

Speaker 2: Yeah. So, we’re competing against Chinese honey and other foreign honey with their labor markets and expectations and stuff are totally different than what we produce.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: But then what {inaudible 18:33} from the government from us. So, it’s not apples to apples, but we’re trying to compete apples to apples. And so I would like to see, I mean, charity in the foreign honey or just increasing the visibility and the ethics behind what’s actually a hundred percent produced locally or American and what’s not.

Speaker 1: Alright. So, do you have any ideas of things {inaudible 19:11} can do to better assist beekeepers?

Speaker 2: Well I think they do a pretty good job. I mean, my understanding {inaudible 19:20} is a supply company, and then they also have publications through the American Bee Journal and other prints. So, I think they do a pretty good job for the beekeeping community. It’d be nice, kind of going back to what I like to see change is maybe more of a lobbying presence if there isn’t already on the national level. I know that {inaudible 19:58} for some of {inaudible 20:00} I don’t know if they can’t wait around in that field or not. But I think just having kind of a unified voice among the beekeeping community would be if it’s already happening, would be encouraging to see as just as a relatively small beekeeper.

Speaker 1: Yeah, absolutely. Alright and since this is a tough time right now, like what do beekeepers need from beekeeping supply companies like {inaudible 20:36} and Mann Lake right now?

Speaker 2: As much as they have control over the supply chain, we’re just being able to know that we can call and get what we need when we need it. That’s always a question and I recognize that a lot of supplies are not produced locally, in America or if they are, there might be an eruption. So, I recognize there’s breaks in that, but that I would say play a critical piece in that part of the equation. Having it stocked up moving forward, if we over produce honey and fulfill our pollination contracts.

Speaker 1: Yeah. So, there’s a lot of different facets that go into beekeeping. Is there a certain area that you are particularly interested in?

Speaker 2: I really enjoy producing honey in particular comb honey. So, it’s kind of, it’s a slightly different management than just producing liquid extracted honey. But I would love to kind of just become more specialized in just producing cut comb honey. Like there’s fishing and then there’s fly fishing and there’s just the stakes kind of different. That’s different skill set and different focus when you’re fly fishing, versus when you’re, using {inaudible 22:33} or whatever.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: So, just kind of a different approach.

Speaker 1: Okay, why the fascination with comb honey specifically?

Speaker 2: I feel like it gives honey the greatest dignity, when you produce a beautiful sheet of comb honey and the honeycomb and there’s a simplicity to not having to run into an extractor.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: And the taste is maximized too, the honey is not being exposed to oxygen at all or any kind of blending it through pumps and augers and you kind of get this really unique {inaudible 23:16} taste of what nature has to offer.

Speaker 1: Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 2: It’s completely raw, completely unprocessed. A pocket knife, cuts it off the frame and that’s it.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Just put in the packaging. Yeah.

Speaker 2: This simplicity is very attractive and just the quality of the product that it can produce is attractive.

Speaker 1: Yeah. And it looks great.

Speaker 2: Yeah. It’s great and it’s attractive to the eyes.

Speaker 1: So, out of all the honey that you sell, what is your most popular?

Speaker 2: I started the Florida Wildflower Honey that we produce.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: We produce more of it and we sell more of it. The Tupelo Honey is very popular. But it’s more rare and there’s not as much of it. So, it’s naturally more expensive, which most people aren’t willing to spend $15 or $20 on a pound of honey.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 2: But for those who are, it’s very much in demand. But I would say everyday family kind of thing is the wildflower.

Speaker 1: Okay. Can you go into the Tupelo honey a little bit more? Just what makes it more expensive.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it’s naturally a very light Amber. It has a slightly green {inaudible 24:50} to it. It does not granulate unlike wildflower or blossom.

Speaker 1: Right.

Speaker 2: So, those two qualities alone kind of make it desirable. But then on top of that, it only blooms along the rivers in the Northwest area, a small area like a swamp in Southern Georgia.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: Out of the whole world, there’s only like a real small area.

Speaker 1: Yeah, it’s super rare.

Speaker 2: And then the beekeepers over the last 50 to 80 years handmade and did a good job of promoting Tupelo. And when people come to Florida to vacation, they taste Tupelo and it’s got a great taste to it. It’s really unique and so it’s the scarcity and the uniqueness of it and that is kind of what sets it apart. But there’s also the unique qualities that I believe it’s higher in fructose {inaudible 25:57} and granulate and the {inaudible 25:59} can handle it better than regular wildflower or blossom.

Speaker 1: Oh, wow. Okay.

Speaker 2: I’m not a doctor, but that’s what I’ve been told.

Speaker 1:Yeah.

Speaker 2: Because of the fructose levels it won’t spike your blood sugar as much.

Speaker 1: Yeah. That makes sense. Okay, let’s see. So, you talked about Dr. Taylor a little bit. Are there any other leading influencers in the beekeeping role that you like to look at their content?

Speaker 2: I would say Randy Oliver, is someone I follow and he writes monthly in the American Bee Journal as well. But I appreciate his scientific approach to things. And it seems kind of like he doesn’t have a lot of preconceived notions about one thing or the other that he’s assessing.

Speaker 1: Right

Speaker 2: So, kind of a modern beekeeper, he’s running a full commercial operation of his sons, but he’s also doing a lot of trial and error, so it’s definitely appreciated. And another {inaudible 27:26} is Palmer, I’m trying to think of his first name, Michael Palmer.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: He is a commercial beekeeper up in Vermont. But he’s been at it for decades, he’s probably in his sixties now, if not 70. But he’s very, very well versed in experience and he’s kind of not afraid to buck the trends on how to do things. So, he seems to be successful in his own right with what he does and how he does it.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Are you familiar with {inaudible 28:13} at all?

Speaker 2: I am, but I’m not as familiar as I am with the other two.

Speaker 1: We know he’s a little controversial, so that’s something we like to ask in our interviews just to see where people {inaudible 28:29} on him. Okay, great, I think I have everything I need to get started here. Something else we’re also trying to do is partner with local beekeepers to highlight their platforms more and give them more of a voice. I don’t know if that’s something you’d be interested in. Because we’re just trying to produce more beekeeper related content from the beekeepers themselves. So, if there’s any way I could just get my camera and come out to your bee yard and take some pictures or see your honey extraction process. Just something that we could do to highlight {inaudible 29:13} honey on {inaudible 29:13} and socials.

Speaker 2: Right? Yeah. I’d be happy to.

Speaker 2: Okay, great.

Speaker 2: Is that where this would go in, the social?

Speaker 1: Yeah. So, I’m going to get this written up and we’re going to post it on our website and post on all of our socials. And then if you do have any photos that you’ve already taken that you think would be good for this profile, I would also appreciate that.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 1: But yeah, I think that’s it. I think I got everything I need.

Speaker 2: Okay. That sounds good.

Speaker 1: But thank you so much, Tommy. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

Speaker 2: Absolutely:

Speaker 1: And I hope you have a great day.

Speaker 2: Alright thank you, you too.