The bee’s knees: Honey company grows from a river of gold – Greenville Journal

When the last millennium came to an end, so did Kerry Owen’s career. That’s when he got a serious case of the hives. Bees, that is.

“I lost my job, just bought a house down here in Pickens, with two little kids and needed to pay the mortgage,” he says, recalling what could have been a stinging setback 25 years ago but a turn of fate he turned into a liquid-gold opportunity.

GJ 12 3 21 Honey runner provided

Today, he oversees Bee Well Honey Farm & Bee Supply, which includes a bottling and distribution plant, a beekeeping supplies shop and the Bee Well Honey Natural Market & Coffee Shop, all within a mile of each other along Main Street in downtown Pickens, just a 30-minute drive from Greenville.

After losing his job at a local radio station around 1998, he turned to bees, he says, as a matter of survival. He learned all about that growing up in Balsam Grove, a western North Carolina mountain hamlet, population of around 550.

GJ 12 3 21 Bee flies into the lens at a Bee Well colony field provided 1

“Everybody had bees. Everybody grew their own stuff. We traded milk for eggs, eggs for butter. We were a farming community, little houses built out of sawmill lumber, and people had a hog and a cow and chickens. It was that kind of life,” he says.

Freshly unemployed, he returned to that life, building hives and selling their byproducts from a toolshed-sized “store” at the end of his driveway. Customers pulled up, grabbed a jar and pushed honor-system greenbacks through an old ammo case drilled with holes.

The buzz grew. Soon, with 50-some hives, he was hauling his wares from Hilton Head to North Carolina to Georgia.

honey jar 1 968x1024 1

Around 2000, Garner’s Natural Market, which was then located on East Antrim Drive, learned about his merchandise; they knew Owen because he used to cut their radio commercials. (Garner’s Natural Life, which is across the street from where the market used to be, belongs to another branch of the Garner family.)

Nowadays, over in Spartanburg, Garner’s Natural Foods carries on that decades-long relationship with Owen, selling exclusively the Bee Well label.

“We thrive in a small town, we’re a small business.” – Stetson Owen, Bee Well Honey

“I trust Kerry, I trust his product and I learned a lot from him, and that’s why we choose to carry only his South Carolina-made honey,” says owner Jon Garner, noting that some manufacturers add corn syrup to their product.

Not Bee Well, which sells only raw, unfiltered wildflower honey, flowing now from nearly three dozen hive fields throughout the Carolinas and Georgia.

GJ 12 3 21 Hives serve as manufacturing plants for beeswax honey provided 1

From there, Bee Well distributes to marquee grocers and small businesses throughout the Southeast. In Greenville, Wandering Bard Meadery buys some 1,200 pounds of Bee Well honey every two months.

“We’ve worked with Kerry a long time, we like his product, and we’re very happy to use his stuff,” says Brian Daughhetee, mead maker, co-owner and sometime beekeeper.

Bee Well does that, too, offering apiculture classes and promoting the fragile lives of honeybees. All that underscores why Owen earned the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award in 2016 — the first full-time beekeeper to win.

Owen, 50, credits Bee Wells’s longevity to relationships. In addition to its 14 employees, the tight-knit company works with 12 farm families that produce honey.

“Some of my cooperative farmers are also generational. In other words, I did business with the fathers, and now my son and his son are doing bees together,” he says.

His son, Stetson, 30, works in the family business now after 10 years as a firefighter.

“We thrive in a small town, we’re a small business,” he says. “Any time we decide to do something, we do it all the way. We’re not done with this chapter, we’re still writing the book.”

GJ 12 3 21 A serious case of hives Bee Well Honey Co provided

Get Busy with Bees

Seriously, you can buy bees. Bee Well Honey Farm sells them by the box. You’ll also need equipment, such as:

  • Beginner Beekeeping Kit – includes 10-frame hive: deep frames; wax foundation, smoker and smoker fuel; straw hat veil; a book to get you started, and several other items
  • 8- and 10-frame hive bodies
  • Jacket nylon folding veil, goatskin beekeeping gloves, helmets and other clothing accessories
  • Unassembled frames and boxes
  • A queen catcher (no queen, no hive, no bees, no honey)
  • Swarm lure gel pheromone (attracts swarms to hives with that “come-hither” fragrance)
  • Check out the brief video about getting started.

Source: Bee Well Honey Farm

Learn the ABCs of Bees

Along with retail and wholesale honey sales, the company also runs a store that’s a hipsters’ paradise: au courant coffee shop with locally sourced fire-roasted coffee; grass-fed beef, candles the business also makes; and lots more.

The sweet spot, though, remains the bees. The company also offers tours, venue rentals and classes.

Bee Well Honey Bee Supply offers a “Common Sense Beekeeping Class – For Beginners” from 9 a.m. to noon, Jan. 8 and 9 a.m. to noon, Feb. 5.

Source: Be Well Honey Farm’s Facebook pages