SHELBYVILLE, Ky. - Steve Smith believes a spoonful of local honey cures the allergies that ail you.
It worked for Smith, co-owner of a Kentucky Proud business called Bee Boys Honey.
“One of the reasons I got into this was my allergies,” Smith said. “My wife said, ‘You need local, natural honey.’ I got some at a farmers’ market and took a spoonful a day.
“The first month, I was worse than I was before. But after my body started building immunity [to natural allergens in the honey], my allergies went away.”
Smith, who also co-owns longtime Kentucky Proud member Fishmarket Seafood and Meats in Louisville, moved from a consumer to a producer after meeting beekeeper Richard Hosey of Hosey’s Honey in Midway at the first Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show in 2009.
“We [Fishmarket] had a booth there, and I saw Richard’s booth,” Smith said. “We started talking, and Richard said, ‘You just need to get some hives and get started.’”
As soon as Smith got home from the food show, he made a business proposition to his neighbor, neurosurgeon George Raque, who raises Saddlebred horses, Angus cattle, and soybeans at Infinity Farms near Shelbyville.
“I said, ‘George, we need to get into beekeeping,’” Smith said. “Most of us have this image in our minds of a doctor, and the last image you have is a guy in a ball cap with 80,000 bees flying around.”
The two Bee Boys started with five hives. Seven years later, they number more than 100.
“They take care of themselves,” Smith said. “Talk about a low-maintenance business. We just let them do their thing.”
Business ramped up recently when Kroger began selling their local honey, in addition to some smaller independent Louisville retailers such as Paul’s Fruit Markets and Lucky’s Market.
“The first couple of years, we just kinda puttered along,” Smith said. “Kroger was looking for some local honey, so we upped our game a little bit. Honey is the No. 1-selling item on Kentucky Proud shelves.”
Smith said that’s because consumers can taste the difference compared to national brands.
“When I tasted our first batch, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this stuff is really good!’” he said. “It was amazing to me.”
“Everybody that tastes our honey says it’s the best honey they’ve ever tasted, that they didn’t know honey could taste so good,” Smith told the Shelbyville Sentinel-News.
Smith said the Commonwealth is fortunate to have a program like Kentucky Proud to help Kentuckians market their products.
“It’s brought not only the Bee Boys but so many other small producers in this state to the table,” Smith said. “The brand awareness – you can put a label on your product that’s so much more recognizable than your own.
“It’s a super program. We’ve worked with other states, and nobody’s got anything close to what Kentucky’s got.”
Raque told the Sentinel-News that while the business is growing, he’s not ready to give up his day job.
“Let’s put it this way – I’m not going to retire from neurosurgery [from making] money in the honey business,” he joked.
Smith said the Bee Boys are still learning the beekeeping ropes with help from their mentor, Hosey.
“Richard has been a big help,” Smith said. “It’s been a learning process for us.”
Early on, the Bee Boys learned the importance of protective beekeeping garb the hard way.
“We thought, ‘We don’t need these masks,’” Smith said. “When George and I got home one day, I had been hit seven or eight times in the face and looked like the Elephant Man, while George’s eye was swollen shut.
“If you’re uncomfortable, scared, or nervous around them, bees can smell fear. Once you get hit, it gives off a pheromone. It’s like a magnet.”
With time, the stings have lessened, and Smith has discovered that he loves working with bees.
“There’s just an energy the hive gives off,” he said. “In a way, it’s really relaxing.”