When you think about honey, you probably picture the plastic honey bear on the shelves of your favorite grocery store or the honeycomb depicted on a box of Honey Nut Cheerios. What you probably aren’t thinking about is locally produced honey made right in your own town that’s natural, sweet and taken from bees treated with tender love and care. From farmer’s markets to food festivals, locally produced honey has become a hit at spots like Riverside Arts Market, Beaches Green Market and the annual Jacksonville Fair. Northeast Florida beekeepers agree that locally made and distributed honey is a growing trend. This may be due to the fact that you can see the source itself and the face behind the beekeeping mask when purchasing local honey.
“The local communities surrounding Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Jacksonville Beach have welcomed us with open arms and are a huge part of who we are as a brand. We also have seen many other types of honey brands spring up recently, so it’s encouraging to know the craft is well-supported in the Jacksonville area,” said Justin Stubblefield of Stubbees, a local brand that produces unique creamed honeys.
Why you should take the time to visit an apiary or honey farm instead of just stumbling into Walmart in your pajamas to buy a mass-produced product? As Stubblefield explains it, “Local honey is not only important because of its medicinal benefits, it also keeps our local economy and communities thriving by keeping dollars as close to home as possible. This is huge for a city that is growing at such a rapid pace as we are.” Michael Leach of Bee Friends Farm agrees.
In addition to supporting your community, buying local honey ensures you’re getting the product you paid for. Marilyn Young of Lark Bee Company and former president of Jacksonville Beekeepers Association explained, “There are a lot of pests and diseases that bees can get, just like people … As a small beekeeper, I try to check my hives for the presence of those pests and diseases …
“[But] when you’re buying that commercial honey, you may have a bigger increase to those types of treatments and bee diseases. There’s also some reports of non-honey being processed and sold as honey, coming in from other countries. There’s been questionable content about what’s actually in the bottle.”
For local beekeepers, the health and quality of their bees is very important–they work to produce honey that is as natural and preservative-free as possible. Lark Bee Company offers natural honeycombs, gallberry honey with a sweet, enticing aftertaste, and wildflower honey, a tried-and-true favorite. Also on the menu are Stubbees raw creamed honeys such as mango, peach and lemon zest, packing a flavorful punch. “We wanted to bring everything back to the bee and not the bear when packaging our product, and involve colors that show the variety of what honey can be …
“Another goal was to make sure we use only raw, organic, non-GMO ingredients in our products to keep in line with the health-conscience consumer and get away from the syrups, preservatives and artificial flavorings normally found in flavored honey,” said Stubblefield.
For many, it’s not only a hobby and passion, but a community of people who educate and offer other information and resources on bees and honey production. The Jacksonville Beekeepers Association, among others, informs residents about bee removal services, offers beginner beekeeping classes and provides a forum for honey enthusiasts to stay up to date on each other’s bees. “It’s a small-knit community. [We] get together and see what’s going on in each other’s hives. [The Jacksonville Beekeepers Association] really strives to educate the people of Jacksonville about bees and their importance in our environment,” said Young.
In an urban setting, many assume that bees are unwelcome pests, but it’s quite the opposite. “Many people … are afraid of bees or feel that they shouldn’t be shared in the same spaces as an urban environment. They do much better in these urban environments where there are plantings of landscapes in yards and neighborhoods,” said Young. The urban landscape of all around Northeast Florida offers many different flowers for bees to feast on and provides rich and distinct flavors of honey for residents to enjoy. From wildflower honey to honey from the gallberry flower, local apiaries offer myriad flavors that can be bought and consumed. Some believe that consuming local honey helps reduce pollen allergies, though some research indicates it has no effect. Honey can sooth a sore throat or cough, however. It has also been used topically on wounds, burns and other skin injuries and ailments for centuries.
If you want a taste of some sweet nectar that’s natural and produced right at home, look no further than the beekeepers of this region. You can actually taste the care and effort that these beekeepers put into their honey. Young’s Gallberry Honey won Best in Show for 2015 at the Jacksonville Fair and Stubblefield’s innovative creamed honeys have been recognized in publications all over the state.
“Some feel that they benefit from relief of seasonal allergies. Others might favor the taste and some … feel good to support [our] efforts in providing such a beneficial service to the environment,” Leach said.