According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, there are anywhere from 115,000 to 125,000 beekeepers in the United States with over 2 million colonies producing 1.4 million pounds of raw honey for consumption. Like many industries, beekeeping isn’t the most diverse. One family used the chance to create a business in honor of their children after learning about the health benefits of raw honey.
Summer and Kam Johnson are the founders behind Zach and Zoe Sweet Bee Farm, a collection of raw honey made on their land in New Jersey and named after their children. The parents started beekeeping for health purposes when their son, Zach, started struggling with asthma and seasonal allergies and used honey to help. “We would regularly find ourselves in the emergency room and were constantly giving him steroids and medicine to keep his asthma in check,” wrote the Johnsons in an interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE via email.
“We wanted a natural solution to help his allergies and we read that raw honey could help with inflammation and introduce the body to pollen in manageable amounts. Back in 2015, we started with two hives and were pleasantly surprised to get a small honey harvest in the fall of that year. We kept growing each year and increasing the number of hives on our property and learning more about beekeeping.”
From there, the two started to produce honey for sale and created the company named after their children. The Johnsons learned that their presence also brought representation and diversity to those within the industry and that they are helping educate people along the way. “When we first started keeping bees, there weren’t that many Black beekeepers and we received (and still do) tons of questions and genuine curiosity,” they said.
“It’s been really fun to raise awareness around agriculture, farming, and the importance of bees and that’s one of the highlights for us—being able to teach about the topic and introduce communities, especially children, to bees. We do tours on our farm and with quarantine, have evolved into doing video tours of the bees. We live in a rural setting but we also know beekeepers who keep bees in major cities You don’t need a ton of space, just some patience, natural curiosity, and not mind getting stung on occasion.”
The Johnsons said it was important to make their children a part of the business and to teach them the mechanics behind running a business so one day they can pass the business down to them. “We named the business after our children and from the beginning, we envisioned a business that we could all play a part in,” they added.
“When they were younger, they would help with the beekeeping and they also helped with our retail shop. As they get older, we involve them in more aspects of the business and use it as a teaching tool on the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. We talk about [things like] operations, accounting, pricing, [and] fulfillment. They can see, firsthand, that starting and running a business is incredibly hard work but that if you keep at it, it can be really rewarding to see a business grow and flourish.”