When he was sixteen years old, an employer advised beekeeper Michael Leach to quit his job every five years. “Incidentally, that’s what’s happened,” says Leach. Yet the bee business seems to stick. These days, he’s on his third year of the honey product development side of Bee Friends Farm with his wife, Christie, and their three children.
Bee Friends produces over a dozen unique varieties of honey. Their most commonly harvested products include gallberry honey, a berry native to Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, and wildflower honey. Over time, Christie has developed and perfected Bee Friends Farm’s spreadable creamed honey flavors, including Chocolate (destined for Nutella lovers), Mexican Vanilla, Cinnamon, and others. Every Bee Friends Farm honey product is completely raw and packed with the natural nectar’s benefits, including blood sugar regulation, wound-healing, and cancer and heart disease prevention, among a long list of others.
“Anything in farming where you quit your conventional job and branch out with your mom and pop business—it’s kind of a scary leap.”
Michael spent four years manufacturing beekeeping materials. Due to his extensive background in drafting, he designs most of his own equipment for today’s harvest. The Bee Friends Farm honey house—a harvesting building on Jacksonville’s westside—is filled with frames and other supplies Michael has handmade through the years.
Christie’s father was once a beekeeper, but wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about her and Michael’s decision to enter the apiary. “Anything in farming where you quit your conventional job and branch out with your mom and pop business—it’s kind of a scary leap,” says Christie. “He was just a little bit concerned.”
But the Leach family means business. They’ve been working on the honey house refurbishment in order to make it “clean and sterile, because we’re in food processing.” Eventually, the harvest will move into the honey house to complete the settling filtration and straining process. Their tested harvesting promotes a smooth, rich result.
With the honey house renovation still underway, the Bee Friends Farm team has kept busy developing new products. An exciting new line of natural bath and body products incorporating natural honey product is advancing toward its release. With the house facing I-10 near the Lane Avenue exit, Christie intends to paint a mural on its side to promote Bee Friends to westbound traffic.
In 2016, the farm extracted an average of 155 gallons of honey per hive. With the renovation of the honey house, the Leach family expects for 2017 to be another productive year. Bee Friends Farm will have their honey products available for sale at Gastrofest 2017 on March 18 in Hemming Park from 11am to 7pm. Find festival details on the GastroJax website. For more information on Bee Friends Farm, visit their beefriendsfarm.com.