Bees buzz across thirty apiary locations in three counties, they simply carry out their purpose. East Hill Honey has a tender balance of hard work, as well as relying on nature to finish its own. With plenty of panhandle sunshine, East Hill Honey produces Florida’s finest raw honey
Meet The Farmers
Tucked into small parcels of land off the bustling main roads in Pensacola, Fl, Tommy Van Horn is working amongst 6 million bees. Pensacola is a quaint coastal city, located in the westernmost part of Florida’s panhandle. The city is known to be America’s oldest city and home of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. Its best-kept secret is the raw and native Tupelo honey from the rivers just East of town.
Tommy started beekeeping as an accidental hobby. A friend of a friend was traveling from Jacksonville, packing his bees in the back of his car. Traveling on I10, he swerved to miss a semi that had crossed into his traffic lane. The hives toppled over, allowing all the bees to escape within the car. Tommy’s friend, Frank, helped collect the bees. This accident lead to Tommy’s interest, which evidently became East Hill Honey.
East Hill Honey has come a long way from its start in 2011. At first, there were two hives that supported the sideline business. Previously, Tommy was a meteorologist for an online surf-forecasting company and then later served as the executive director of Fraternus, a Catholic mentoring program for boys. Soon after his first batch of honey had sold out, his entrepreneurial wheels began to turn. Within 3 years, East Hill honey became a full-time job, supplying Pensacola and it’s surrounding grocery stores, local businesses, and restaurants with handcrafted honey.
As Tommy and his wife, Emily’s, business expanded, so did their family. With 4 children, Tommy’s approach to business is driven by his love for his family. Emily is the mastermind behind the honey, soaps, skin care, and pecan honey,amongst many other great products.
Honey production is not always full of sunny days in the field with happy bees. Some days are scorching hot, the beekeeping suit is itchy, and the bees are frustrated. Bees can be affected by shifts in their environment in and around their colony. Issues like disruption, temperature and blooming seasons can affect the behavior of the colonies.
The days can expand into the night, with late-night moves to new flowers and admin work that needs to be tended to. Tommy’s time is utmost important to his business and his family. As he provides a quality life for his children and wife, he also grows his farm and business reach. His efforts are evident through the integrity of his products, and the genuine love in their family.
Quality over Quantity
Just what would be a bee keeper’s favorite part of the job? For Tommy, maintaining quality through selective queen grafting, great employees, and a realistic vision makes this job satisfying. “I love grafting queens!”
The queen bee lays eggs for the hive; if she stops laying, the whole hive will perish. Beekeepers are constantly trying to improve their bee’s genetics. “Just like a dog breeder is always looking for the best traits in a dog, same with a beekeeper.” he explained.
Grafting queen bees is a process in which an egg from a healthy, highly productive hive, is moved to a hive without a queen. The bees instinctively know the relocated egg will turn into a queen cell. This process consistently improves the genetics of commercial beehives.
Beekeeping can branch off into different jobs, like swarm removal, honey production, pollination, selling bees to other keepers, etc. Tommy enjoys the simplicity of being out in the field with the bees, producing handcrafted honey through tender care, in locations he has personally selected.
“Not to become huge, but as big as it needs to be.”
The principle of “quality over quantity” continues to inspire and grow East Hill Honey. “There is always room for improvement, there is always room to make better.” Tommy reflects. Since money is not the motivator, there is no pressure to take over the honey industry or expand on a factory farm level. As long as the quality of honey is maintained, and the employees are happy, Tommy feels satisfied. The growth of the business is based upon integrity to the honey production process, with no cut corners.
Tommy manages between four hundred and five hundred bee colonies at the moment. He hopes within the next five years he can hire more full-time employed and grow his farm to one thousand colonies. With more full-time employees, he would have more opportunity to relax with his family and watch his children grow.
With apiaries in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Holmes county, the dream is to expand outside of Pensacola- without compromising the base that the business was built on. In the early spring and summer, honey harvest takes place along the coastline of Pensacola. Later in the Summer, harvests are more bountiful in northern locations where the mint is blooming. Holmes county is special since it is where the distinctive and delicate Tupelo honey is produced. Tupelo honey is specific to Florida’s panhandle. It is regarded as some of the best table grade honey there is!
Whether it’s raw honey, a soap bar, bee pollen, or beeswax that you are considering buying from East Hill Honey, know this: these bees are treated like family, They receive tender care from a select few, to support a couple of local families, and provide a product full of honesty.
Backyard Bohemian Recipes ft. East Hill Honey:
- These Honey Balsamic Roasted Beets combine delicious flavors, making this a perfect sweet and savory dish. With complimenting flavors of honey, balsamic vinegar, and orange extract, these root vegetables taste less “Earthy” and more delectable!
- Fresh Peaches and Bourbon one Pan Chicken dinner is exactly what summer tastes like! With fresh ingredients and a slight tangy sweetness, this meal is just as easy as it is delicious!
- Blueberry Yogurt Breakfast Popsicles are the perfect way to bring in the warmer weather. Frozen blueberries are reduced to a syrup, and mixed with oats, yogurt, and protein powder, providing a healthy, satisfying treat to enjoy at any time of the day!