What’s the buzz? After a diagnosis of cervical cancer at age 30, Alma Johnson took up organic gardening to help her body heal—and ended up hand-pollinating her vegetables because of a lack of bees in the area. “At 7 a.m., before I went to work, I was outside using a Q-tip or paintbrush to pollinate my squash,” she recalls. She decided to get some honeybees and fell in love with beekeeping. “It was wonderful,” she says. “I was hooked.” That’s how Sarasota Honey Co. was born.
Here, there, everywhere. Johnson raises Italian queen bees, which she affectionately calls “Versace bees.” They’re a gentle type of honeybee that thrives in urban environments. She has hives from Anna Maria Island to Sapphire Shores to downtown Sarasota. The difference in the color and taste of the honey from each hive is significant; and to maintain the integrity of the flavors, it’s never blended, unlike at many commercial operations. Johnson and her team go from hive to hive (“We’re like pool cleaners,” she jokes) collecting honey, which is bottled and labeled at Haven Industries, which is part of Community Haven, one of Sarasota Honey Co.’s partners.
Giving back. Before starting Sarasota Honey Co., Johnson was a disabilities advocate and the manager of the state’s Family Network on Disabilities TILES Project. So she decided to figure out a way to marry her love of working with “her kids,” as she calls them, and her newfound love of beekeeping. Today, the company employs young adults with disabilities, and a portion of proceeds from its sales benefits local disability programs.
You can find Sarasota Honey Co. honey at retailers, including Sweetgrass Farms, the Sarasota Jungle Gardens gift shop, Simon’s Coffee House and the Creekside Trader Gift Shop. You can also sign up to host a hive through Sarasota Honey Co. Johnson and her team will set up a hive—which they manage—that can help pollinate urban gardens. For more info, visit sarasotahoney.com.