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00000174-c556-d691-a376-cdd69e2b0000Northeast Ohio has a history of making things. Today, along with liquid crystals and polymers, it’s salsa and artisan cheese. A hot new food scene is simmering among local growers, chefs, producers, educators and epicures, and on every Friday, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman samples new offerings.

Busy Bees and Their Keeper Provide the Flavor of Akron Neighborhoods

jars
SHANE WYNN
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Akron Honey Company
Akron Honey Company's jars are labelled according to neighborhood.

An Akron beekeeper is offering unique types of honey from hives scattered across the city.

In today’s Quick Bite, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman reports the color and flavor of each batch depends on the nectar source in different residential neighborhoods.

Brent Wesley, the founder of Akron Honey Company, works full time in information technology. He got into beekeeping for the love of honey.

"I didn’t know anything about bees. I  just knew that I wanted to help my city, and help this community we have, to improve and take ownership of what I could to make it happen.”

brent
Credit SHANE WYNN / Akron Honey Company
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Akron Honey Company
Brent Wesley has only one employee so far but plans to expand.

Sweet catalyst
He says it all started a few years ago with a trip to Amish country. He got a taste of artisan honey, the best he’d ever had. At about the same time, he was considering buying a vacant lot near his Akron home.

“I drove past this lot every single day on my way to work. And it was kind of overgrown. Someone threw a tire or two over here. It wasn’t the best looking.”

But looking at it after that taste of Amish honey, he suddenly knew what he could do with it. “I’m like, ‘OK I think I’m going to do bees.’ So I bought it, and then this fence, I built it. "

What’s now Akron Honey Company’s Crestland Park Apiary is on Jefferson Avenue in a densely populated neighborhood of tidy, well-kept homes. Twice a year the city blocks traffic so Wesley can sell honey here along with other local vendors at a bustling street market.

Community support
Wesley wondered at first whether neighbors would object to the bee yard in their midst.

“For a long time they didn’t know what I was doing over here. They just saw, all of a sudden, they saw a fence go up. People didn’t know that I had 10 hives behind here. Then we started doing the market day, and then people began to believe.”

apiary and Wesley
Credit VIVIAN GOODMAN / WKSU
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WKSU
Brent Wesley lives not far from his Crestland Park Apiary.

He’d been strongly advised to take a beekeeping class. “I didn’t. I just learned as much as I could online.”

He learned the value of dead leaves.

“During the fall, I rake them into a pile, let them dry out, and collect them, and this is my smoker fuel.” He crushes, then ignites the leaves with a bellows smoker to calm his bees so he can tend to the hives.

“So I just want to get smoke. The point isn’t to create fire, it’s to create a smolder.” As he pumps the bellows and smoke begins to billow, Wesley tells us he’s rarely been stung. He says bees have better things to do.

Dispelled fears
“Man, I’ve had, how many? Four market days now. And nobody’s been stung.”

He says the street markets help dispel the fear that he once shared.

“Before all this, man, I would spray a bee to death because I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand that they don’t care. I’m standing 3 inches from them by a flower and they’re not messing with me. You saw that bee over there. It didn’t care about me. It had two legs full of pollen. It didn’t care about me.” 

When it’s smoky enough, we enter the bee yard without protective gear. 

smoker
Credit VIVIAN GOODMAN / WKSU
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WKSU
Wesley tries to keep a good supply of dry leaves for his smoker to mollify the bees. They're not aggressive, but it helps to calm them down when he tends to the hives.

Amid the profuse foliage surrounding the hives, Wesley stops to marvel at a swarm of bees streaming in single file through a beam of sunlight into the treetops.

“You see that. It’s like a highway. They’re all like on this highway. They’re on their way to somewhere.”

Educating kids and neighbors
Wesley also keeps bees at St. Vincent- St.Mary High School, where students help out and learn, and on Akron’s east side at his Middlebury Apiary. The bees at his Crestland Park Apiary can forage on a community garden nearby, and Wesley encourages neighbors not to trim their lawns to excess.

“I mean clover, people think those are weeds. I mean those are very invasive, but you should see the honey they make from it. You’ll stop cutting your grass in a hot second after tasting that stuff.” 

The honey that results from clover is so pale it’s almost transparent. And the taste:

“Citrusy, not too sweet,” says Wesley. “It’s pretty crazy. People think that honey has to be sweet all the time. It doesn’t. It ranges from there to like a red, an actual red honey. You’re going to find a little bit more red influences on the east side at my other apiary I have.”

Taste and color varies

A photo of bees gathering.
Credit SHANE WYNN / Akron Honey Company
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Akron Honey Company
Wesley has never taken a beekeeping class, but he found plenty of help online and also has mentors.

Many beekeepers wait until late in the season or the last nectar flow to clear out their hives, but Wesley harvests small batches several times throughout the year to get distinct color and flavor profiles.

“You’ll get anything from light to little darker, little bit darker, red, and then really dark. You got Japanese knotweed that’s around Akron. I see a lot of it in East Akron though. That’s kind of what makes that red color in honey. And it makes it more boldly sweet.”

Brent Wesley had a chance to take his business into Cleveland. He turned down a $100,000 investment offer and dropped out of the running in LeBron James’s CNBC reality show “Cleveland Hustles.”

The joy of beekeeping, he’s discovered, is letting the bees be the busy ones.

“I mean, I really wish I could retire right now, because I would just come in here, and be with the bees.”