When a dip in her health set Stephanie Williams on a quest for healthier living, she was redirected to the soul sweetening goodness of honey and an age old family tradition that has flourished into a thriving regional business.
By Courtney Rae Kasper | Photography by Benjamin Peterson
Stephanie Williams still finds herself humbled by the success of her backyard beekeeping hobby turned buzzing business — especially the moment that she landed her first retail shelf. As the story goes, Williams was heading to Cazenovia to peddle her wares to The Brewster Inn. The first snow of the season was gently falling, and Williams felt the need to spend this reflective time catching up with a woman in her community Bible study group. As she was rounding the steep hills in Pompey, the woman on the other end of the phone (via a hands-free device, of course) suggested that the two say a special prayer, as it was a big moment for Williams and her Bee Attitudes Honey startup. Faith powered Williams through to making that first step. “I went in and spoke to the chef, and he went right into the gift shop, cleared off a shelf and loaded it up,” Williams said. “Two weeks later, I was restocking it, and from then on, everywhere I go it’s been taken in.”
That was three years ago. Today her ever-expanding line of artisanal honey and lavender-based products (think: raw honey, tonics, biscotti, granola, hot fudge mix, facial kits, salt scrub, culinary herbs, room spray, cookies, ice cream, scones) are sold at eight boutique retail shops across Central New York and one Florida location, in addition to the brand’s e-commerce site. And the ever-optimistic Williams would love to see Bee Attitudes — a play on the biblical Beatitudes — carried in all natural stores throughout the region like Syracuse’s Natur-Tyme and in national retail chains like Whole Foods Market and Dean & DeLuca. In the meantime, the entrepreneuress has been making quite a buzz herself as a revered business-minded woman. She was tapped as the 2012 Phyllis Goldman Encouragement Award for Women keynote speaker, was named a finalist in the 2012 Martha Stewart American Made Awards and was invited to join the Institute for Global Engagement’s solution-oriented think-tank initiative for Women of Faith for Peace and Security.
Although Williams never imagined owning her own apiary, much less continuing the family beekeeping tradition that dates back to her grandfather, being diagnosed with lupus a decade ago is what really sparked her interest in the healing benefits of honey. Her carefree summer days of smacking on wads of honeycomb like bubblegum became more meaningful than just a fond childhood memory of her upbringing in rural North Carolina. It became a means to better living.
Now with 23 hives, each teeming with thousands of honeybees, four acres of French lavender, 12 acres of clover, five acres of buckwheat, apple trees, vegetable
gardens and five acres of hazelnut trees inoculated with truffles (she’ll soon be the first in the area to cultivate the culinary delicacy), her intention is to provide her bees with an ample food source to get the most all-natural product sourced right from their farm.
But Williams admits that reaching this level of success with no prior farming and little beekeeping experience, all while relocating from New York City to the Finger Lakes, did provide a few big-city-family-moves-to-the-country moments. Most notably, the planting of 12,000 lavender plants. “Talk about Green Acres,” Williams said, with a sweet Southern drawl, “we learned about how much we didn’t know about farming because we didn’t prepare the ground right, we didn’t deal with the weeds right, so we basically ended up putting these little lavender plants into a field of weeds. We battled that for the very first summer and it was really hard work. But last year we distilled our first lavender oil, which was really special.”
Although on track to become a master beekeeper through Cornell University, the most valuable experience for Williams is the quality time spent with her bees, noting that each hive behaves differently (some aggressive, some passive, some protective) according to how they communicate with each other. “They are the smartest creatures,” she said. “I stand in awe of this little creature that is born into a caste system and throughout its life it has all of these different jobs to do, but how do they know? And we think that we have it all figured out!”
Being a small batch operation that prides itself on bottling honey straight from the hive, Williams and her helper bees — husband, Brandon, daughter, Hailey (17), and son, Mitchell (11), plus a few area high schoolers —labor intensely by hand to create beautifully packaged, high quality products. Williams tackles the beekeeping (and yes, getting stung is part of the job), baking, sales and marketing; her husband helps manage the business and runs the farm; her son works beside her with the bees; and her artistically inclined daughter designs the brand’s logo and packaging. “It works for us,” Williams said. “It’s our family philosophy: we work hard together, and then we play hard together. This is who we are.”
Williams’ enthusiasm for her hobby turned livelihood has earned her the nickname of Buzzy. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I delight in going out there and being surprised every time I open up a hive to see how diligent those little creatures have been,” Williams said. “And when I see that beautiful amber honey flow out of the extractor, I’m just so overwhelmed with appreciation. I just love having something that I can share, that other people want to share in and that my family can join in — it’s pretty rewarding!”
And you can be sure that when you show up to partake in a honey harvesting open house at Bee Attitudes or stop by the farm as part of the Finger Lakes Sweet Treat Trail this summer, you will be welcomed with a greeting as sweet as honey from the bee.
3711 E Genesee Street Road
Auburn, N.Y. 13021