Just as the focus on healthy eating and access to healthy food hits home, honeybees are, well, dropping like flies.
“That’s what gives me a job,” said Berry Hines Sr. “We take care of the bees.”
Hines is a third-generation beekeeper who helps his wife, Annie, run Bee Blessed Pure Honey, a family-owned business that produces pure, unprocessed, unfiltered honey in Princeville, a town in eastern North Carolina.
Fortunately for Hines and anybody who understands how crucial bees are to the food industry, the problem of dying bees, or colony collapse disorder, hasn’t grown as rapidly in North Carolina. The state is home to the highest number of beekeepers in the nation, and they produce honey valued at about $15 million a year.
Never miss a local story.
On average, Bee Blessed rents more than 500 colonies a year in 15 counties across the state. Customers range from small farmers with 10 to 15 acres to “big-truck farmers” who ship produce across the country.
They call on Bee Blessed’s colonies of pollinators to aid fertilization and reproduction of crops of cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash, watermelons, apples, pumpkins, strawberries and blueberries, and more.
“I follow the bloom,” Hines said.
We can satisfy our palates with Bee Blessed Pure Honey – both intentionally and unwittingly – in corners of Midtown Raleigh. We can buy jars and sticks of Gallberry, Buckwheat and Honeysuckle honey at the Bee Blessed stand at the State Farmers Market, where nine other vendors use Bee Blessed honey to do their own business, Hines said.
And we indulge in meals and drinks at several Midtown restaurants and bars that use Bee Blessed honey in sauces, and in sweetened and mixed drinks, Hines said. Among them: Beasley’s Chicken and Honey downtown, Tazza Kitchen in Cameron Village and NOFO in Five Points, he noted.
Hines also spends time promoting the beekeeping craft in the community and the benefits of honey as an anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and salve for cuts, scrapes and burns.
Hines first fell in love with bees under the tutelage of his granddaddy who’d learned the business from his own father.
“As a little boy, I stayed underfoot with him so much – probably just in his way – that I’ve always had a fascination with bees,” Hines said, recalling using bee gum to make a gallon or two of honey to sell and give away.
As a soldier in the U.S. Army, Hines joined local bee clubs. Today, they’re the Coastal Plains Beekeepers Association and the N.C. State Beekeepers Association.
When he retired from the Army, Hines started and sold a janitorial service and a security company.
“Too much stress,” he said.
Then, his grandson, Gerron Stanley, now 26, took a liking to bees. He started with two hives. The bees multiplied – and so did the honey, Hines said.
Now, the grandfather-grandson duo are in charge of Bee Blessed’s crop pollination.
Yep, they’re the worker bees for the company’s primary source of income. They take care of the bees, maintain the equipment, handle honey extraction, meet with farmers to lease bees and plan pollination, and move the bees to various farms.
“Beekeeping is an ever-changing thing,” Hines said. “I’ve been real blessed.”
Meanwhile, Annie Hines packages and ships the honey. And the couple’s son, Berry Hines Jr., oversees marketing and promotions, and the company’s presence at the farmers market.
“You can’t be a child of Berry Hines Sr. and not have your hands, somehow, in the business of bees,” said Berry Hines Jr.
On a recent visit to the farmers market stand, Linda Weaver was looking for honey to make her feel better.
“I need some honey for my allergies – and it has to be local,” said Linda Weaver of Wake Forest. “It has to be made here where I’m having symptoms.”
Weaver said she’s trying to stay clear of prescription and over-the-counter remedies.
“God made bees,” she said. “They’re natural, so they’re good for me.”