When I was in later elementary school my dad took up a new hobby - beekeeping. He was already skilled in the art of woodworking and woodcarving, those hobbies helped to pass the winter months, but at heart my dad is an outside man. Beekeeping gave him that outdoor hobby to occupy him spring, summer and fall. My parents live on twenty-three acres of country delight, so there was plenty of room for a handful of bee hives.
It took a couple of years to get honey output up so that it supplied more than just our family of four. By the time production was up to full speed, I was in middle school and more than old enough to help. I spent many late summer afternoons in the basement with my dad; we would take turns hand cranking the honey extractor. While I was turning I would watch the honey spin out of the hive frames hitting the cylindrical metal sides of the extractor and slide down towards the exit spout, where it waited to be released into new, white five gallon pails. We would bottle and distribute from the bounty in the five gallon pails.
Once we had the supply, we had to figure out a way to create demand. This was the late 1970's and early 1980's, the eat healthy and organic lifestyle had not emerged yet. But there was a new venture in our downtown on Saturday mornings - The Farmers Market - a place for small local farms to sell the excess from their crops without having to man a roadside stand ten hours a day.
I remember getting up at five a.m. so we could be in line at the market by six. In those days, spaces were rented on a first come, first serve basis.
I always felt a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies as my dad and I pulled into our space in his fire-engine red Chevy truck, and set up our sunshine yellow, polka-dot pool umbrellas for shade. I would then set out the Christmas red and bottle-green boat cushions as our seats on the tailgate. But then we unloaded my dad's masterpiece - a handcrafted barn board table with the words Honey For Sale engraved into the front apron. The pints, quarts and gallon jugs of our honey, the sun lighting up the liquid gold inside, looked amazing on that table.
Most Saturdays we made enough profit to stop and get a Big Mac, fries and a coke on the the way home. But making money was never really the point of it, I got to spend priceless Saturday mornings with my dad; sitting on our boat cushions, eating store bought cookies, and drinking lemonade out of a big silver thermos. Those are some of my happiest memories from childhood and I would never trade a moment of them.
I still go to the Farmers Market every week, but as a customer instead of as a vendor. The Farmers Market is the trendy thing to do now, everybody wants fresh fruit, vegetables and unprocessed, raw honey.
Now I wander the aisles with my daughter, shopping for plants, picking out fresh strawberries, selecting fresh flowers for the dining room table. We stop every week at our favorite coffee booth for 16 oz. cups of the flavor of the week. We chat with the guy behind the coffee pots, sharing bits of our morning thus far.
My dad, at 81, still keeps his bees. He doesn't need to go to the Farmers Market anymore, those early days lead to many repeat and loyal customers. Now he has more demand than supply. But if he did decide to go back to the market, he would still have a very willing helper.