When it comes to local produce, eggs, meat, or even dairy, there's only one crop around that's sweeter than all the rest: honey.
A rich source of carbohydrates with 17 grams per tablespoon, it's first and foremost an ideal energy food. Also a humectant, the amber-hued liquid is known to attract and retain moisture, making it a natural additive for products like cleansers, creams, shampoos, and conditioners. And when you're feeling sick, honey has been a remedy used to help soothe the symptoms of the common cold for centuries.
For Bee Healthy Honey Farm owner Stephen Byers, these are just a few of the benefits that come from the honey his small Delray Beach-based apiary produces. The most important part, however, is to raise healthy bees and hives.
Byers, a former businessman, moved his family to Florida knowing he wanted to do some sort of farming with his property in west Delray Beach.
"When I let a commercial beekeeper use the land for his hives I wanted to learn more, and it snowballed from there," says Byers. "Today, we sell honey that is just as pure as the way the bees make it. It's not force filtered, or heated. Nothing is added or taken away."
What began with a single hive in 2012 has today grown to more than 80, clusters of buzzing boxes scattered across his family's two-and-a-half acres. The grounds are home to a variety of native wildflowers and clover, providing an immediate food source for his bees, who can travel up to five miles from the hive for food sourcing.
These days, the farm has become a family affair. Once each week, Byers, his wife Cherie, and their two children Caleb and Grace head out to collect honey. Last year, Bee Healthy Honey Farm produced approximately 2,000 pounds of raw, unfiltered wildflower honey — what amounts to several gallon buckets each week — which the family bottles for sale.
"It tastes like sunshine," says Cherie. "We use it in coffee or tea, and as a sweetener for oatmeal. The flavor is stronger than what you'll find sold at the grocery store too."
To ensure nothing is overharvested, Byers notes that they will rotate hives, meaning no one colony is harvested more than several times a year. Such a collection method results in honey that stays in the hive longer than hives managed by commercial beekeepers (those with 300 hives and more). According to Byers, allowing for extra time between collection results in honey that is richer in flavor, high in enzymes, and offers a beautiful, deep-brown molasses color.
The practice of conservative harvesting also makes Byers part of a new breed of beekeepers who place bee health over the bottom line. As a result, farms like Bee Healthy are on a mission to help grow the number of healthy bee colonies in the area — while also making some rich, flavorful honey.
What's collected is bottled and sold by the ounce out of a small retail shop located in the family's stand-alone garage that opens on the weekend to allow customers to buy directly from the farm. Sizes range from 12-ounce bottles to 3-gallon jugs. The shop also offers honeycomb and bee pollen.
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Because harvesting varies, Byers recommends calling ahead to ensure product availability. Oh, and sales are cash only.
"This is a special honey, and I'm proud to offer it to the local community," says Byers. "It's Delray Beach honey, and if you're into buying local, the benefits are endless."
Bee Healthy Honey Farm is located at 7396 Skyline Drive, Delray Beach. The farm is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Call 561-921-1475, or visit beehealthyhoneyfarms.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.