Just like cheese, veggies, produce, meat and pretty much all other agricultural products, the quality of honey can vary widely, with locally made stuff almost always being the best, in terms of flavor and environmental impact. Plus, cute though they are, those plastic bears on the supermarket shelf from China, New Zealand, Mexico and who knows where else, are never going to be able to match the nutritional power of honey harvested close to home, which can help ease common ailments, like allergies and sore throats.
In Northeastern PA, one of the most prolific artisan honey companies is The Beekeeper’s Daughter. For founder Hannah Burgess, “hive to table” honey is deeply tied to her family’s history and her way of life. In the early 1950s, her grandfather, William Perry, Sr., established Perry Apiaries in Dallas, PA, which slowly grew to be one of the biggest commercial honey producers on the East Coast. Now, the hives that have been helping her family make a living for generations produce a number of different raw, unfiltered honeys and honey-based products, which Burgess sells online and at her brick-and-mortar shop in Plains, PA, just on the outskirts of Wilkes-Barre.
Burgess kindly set aside some time in her busy schedule to chat with us about how she’s carrying on her family’s work and helping to bring a better honey to the people of Pennsylvania.
PA Eats: There is a strong link from The Beekeeper’s Daughter to your family’s honey business, right? How did you decide to branch out on your own?
Hannah Burgess: The Beekeeper’s Daughter started in 2010 when I saw high demand for local raw honey. We always sold our honey wholesale to other companies for them to bottle or use for baked products, but we never had our own private label. After many years of watching other companies bottle our product, I thought it would be a good idea to start our own brand. We have a farm with a honey house, and we produce a lot of honey; we’re the biggest commercial beekeeper in the state of PA, if not PA and NY. Producing the honey is all that that side of the business can handle. Bottling, labeling and marketing is a whole other side of the business.
Was there a specific moment of inspiration that encouraged you to jump into the raw honey business?
Before 2010, I went to hair school and worked at a salon for eight years. I’ve always had a good knack for marketing and design and just woke up one morning and thought, let’s do this. You see so much fake honey and junk out there, I knew we had a really good thing that we could market and launch. My dad and I have always been really close, and we had a conversation one day, like, “Why haven’t we ever bottled this ourselves?” So, we started to work on the label. Before selling honey, my great grandfather was a chicken and tomato farmer, our label today is based off of his original label with the floral design around the border.
How did you introduce The Beekeeper’s Daughter to your local community?
I started by bottling small amounts of our honey and selling it at the Wilkes-Barre farmers markets, introducing myself and the products. A lot of people already knew about us, but a lot of people didn’t. It was good to build our customer base there, giving out samples. The first one I went to, I sold out of everything I had brought in one day, and so I just kept going and growing from there! We moved into our storefront location in 2015, and that was a big turning point for us. We also sell online, and our online sales doubled from 2018 to 2019! We do ship all over the US, but you’d be surprised how many people who order online are from Dallas or Scranton!
Can you talk a little bit about how raw honey is different from conventional honey?
Our product is superior because we truly keep it raw and unfiltered, we don’t tamper with it at all, so the honey stays just the way it was in the hive: full of pollen, aroma, flavor and bits of wax and propolis. It helps to retain the pollen, enzymes and minerals in the honey when you keep it like that. We’re actually the beekeepers, we’re making and bottling the honey. That’s just huge; you’d be surprised in the honey world how many people buy honey from other places, re-bottle it, and slap a label on it. A lot of honey is imported from China, Canada and Mexico, and they don’t have the same rules and regulations as we do in the US. It’s getting harder and harder to go to the store and buy a product that’s truly from a place.
What are some of your best-selling honeys or honey products?
The biggest seller for local people is the wildflower honey, and the orange blossom honey is our second best-seller because it tastes so good, it’s super-sweet, with a nice aroma and a thick consistency. We recently got into making the honey soda, and there’s nothing quite like it on the market. The younger generation is drinking stuff like seltzer and kombucha that are healthier alternatives to soda, and people are acquiring a taste for it.
Do you have any personal favorites?
If you go into our cupboard at home, we always have a locust blossom honey. It’s light and sweet, our favorite in tea. We always keep a buckwheat honey around for the kids because it’s great for coughs and sore throats. We always keep orange blossom for chicken recipes and sauces. I also like to eat it our creamed cinnamon honey out of the jar, it’s so delicious! Saw palmetto honey is great on breads and biscuits, and my husband really likes the wildflower. They all taste unique and different and have different flavors that work well with different things. We even ordered whiskey barrels and soaked the honey in them for months, and the flavor is amazing.
Is your family involved with this side of the business?
My mom works for me full time! I can remember doing this all by myself, and it was really stressful. Finally, I was like, “Mom, quit your job and come work for me.” We’re a really close-knit family, and she took a leap of faith in me, and here we are. My brother started also working here last year. People ask if it’s weird, but we’re all really honest with each other, we can all call each other out and then we’re over it 10 minutes later. We’re really family oriented!
To learn more about The Beekeeper’s Daughter or to shop for its local products (including honey, candles, beeswax and bee pollen), head to its website, Instagram and Facebook page. You can also use its Store Locator tool to find a market or shop in your community that carries Beekeeper’s Daughter products!
Find The Beekeeper’s Daughter shop at 60 Maffet St. in Plains; phone: (570) 208-4861.
- Photos: The Beekeeper's Daughter