Why else would I leave 130 wild, eleven/twelve year old students and head for the hills of Eastaboga, Alabama?
That’s not exactly true. I am drawn to the countryside like a bee to… 😉 The entire day, I thought of little else. My father, the herbalist in the family has long lauded its praise. He insists that local honey is best for all that ails you.
Even if it wasn’t healthy, what’s not to love?!
I met up with Justin Hill of Eastaboga Bee Company this afternoon after having missed him at Oxford’s fall festival & then again at the Anniston Farmer’s Market. I first learned of his business on Twitter and was shocked to find there was a bee company so close to home. When I called, a young man with the most beautiful Southern drawl answered the phone and graciously offered to show me his farm.
“If you get here early, I’ll let you help me feed the cows,” he promised.
I turned off Mudd Street and traveled down a long dirt road, wondering if perhaps I was in the wrong place. I parked out front, knocked at the door and paused before going back to wait at the car. Brilliant Alabama sun shone down. Even in October it can be stifling here in the South. Surrounding fields, acre upon acre of pastureland, rolled like waves, steadily climbing and steepening behind the home place. In the distance, I could just make out a white super; the air around it shimmered with movement. I stood and filled my eyes –Alabama is such a beautiful place! The tension created from being indoors all day began to slip away.
I’d just begun to wonder if I’d been forgotten when I heard the far off sound of a motor. Puffs of smoke rose across the pasture. It was Justin driving a Polaris 570 Ranger. He pulled up, drawled, “Climb in” and gladly, I did as I was told. We quickly introduced ourselves, exchanged pleasantries, then rode, talked of bees … and fed the cows! I shared my spot with Jake, Justin’s dog. (He reminded me so much of my childhood bird dog, Lemon, that I wanted to take him home!) Jake looked at him, obviously puzzled by the change in their daily feeding schedule. Justin, a 4th generation farmer, works his family’s 300 acre cattle farm.
Justin pulled over to show me a hardwood where he had captured a swarm the previous season. I told Justin that before meeting, I searched the internet for current information on honeybees, apiary regulations and current statistics on Colony Collapse Disorder. I had no idea that every hive had to be registered, or that beekeepers were required to submit a map marking all of their hives. Justin patiently explained the ins and outs of his business and corrected several misconceptions I had about beekeeping.
He pulled us closer to a nearby group of supers. The bees carried on with their work, unfazed by the sound of the engine. He explained that the black bees I helped rob in my younger years were not English bees, but rather Italian bees. These were obviously much calmer. I asked about the various colors of honey and he described being able to taste the difference in them based on the bees’ food source or when the honey was robbed from the hive. We discussed at length the necessity of feeding new or struggling hives. I discovered he currently tends over eighty supers! In 2013 and 2014, Justin was chosen for the Outstanding Young Farm Family in the Bee & Honey Division at the Young Farmers Leadership Conference.
Before leaving, Justin invited me in to sample his new Honey Mustard and loaded me up with a handful of products available from the company’s website: Honey Hand Sanitizer, emollient hand & body lotions containing beeswax and shea butter, soaps, a honey infused lip balm and a leather conditioner comprised of both lanolin and beeswax.
In the coming season, the company is also scheduled to come out with a Honey Vinegar Sauce/Marinade… and Mead! Justin’s degree in marketing from JSU is obviously coming in handy. However, his ingenuity and a hard work ethic are just something he was born with!
If, like me, you are into honey and all its health benefits you must visit Eastaboga Bee Company’s website and check out the honey & the products: http://www.eastabogabeecompany.com
You can also find Justin on Twitter @EastabogaBeeCompany
Now, about that GREAT LOGO. The following excerpt is taken from Justin’s website. He said he didn’t mind me sharing it at all!
“The Tree & The Tractor”
How Heritage Became The Symbol Of Unwavering Quality….
What does an antique Oliver Tractor, with a tree growing through the middle of it, have in common with a bee company?
Justin Hill, Founder of the Eastaboga Bee Company, says it’s the opening chapter to the story of his family history.
“The love of farming in my family comes from generations back,” says Hill. “That Oliver Tractor with the tree growing out of it is the foremost symbol of my Great Grandfather, Elvin Hill. It marks the beginning of my family’s history of farming in Alabama.”
As the story goes, Elvin Hill farmed the lands across East Central Alabama in the late 1800s. After a long hard day of working the fields, Elvin parked his Oliver Tractor and returned home for dinner. Before the meal could be served, Elvin Hill suffered a fatal heart attack.
The grieving Hill family left that Oliver Tractor in the spot where Elvin had parked it. It served as a monument of sorts, which represents the last life act of a great man and the leader of the Hill family. As the months past, a small tree began to sprout from underneath. Through the years, the tree continued to grow, committing the Oliver Tractor to the very ground it was parked on.
While colony loss has been noted and investigated for decades, the rise in numbers during 2006, 2007 (some beekeepers reported a loss of up to 80% of their colonies) created great concern for both apiculturists and agriculturalists. It was then that the term Colony Collapse Disorder was coined.
Due to the large drop in U.S. hives from mites, disease, harsh weather, insecticides, etc. many farmers now “rent” honeybees for pollination. Thus, migratory beekeeping has become crucial to U.S. agriculture. Many beekeepers earn more money from renting bees for pollination than for the production of honey. The business is both necessary and lucrative. However, researchers are currently investigating migratory beekeeping’s effect on spreading viruses and mites.
Elizabeth Mozley McGrady
We Share The Same Sky, a memoir https://www.amazon.com/author/elizabethmcgrady