LARGO, Fla. — It’s been said the world’s most important animal is the honeybee. Good luck getting Mark Johnson to believe otherwise.
“Thirty percent of your food is a direct result from bees,” Mark Johnson said, standing in front of one of his many homemade hives. “It’s amazing what bees do and what they provide for us and it’s essential that we have them.”
The 33-year-old Johnson, a born and bred Floridian, has developed a passion for beekeeping.
According to USDA reports, 2.67 million honey-producing colonies in 2017 generated 1.47 million pounds of raw honey. According to the National Honey Board, the per capita consumption of honey in the United States is approximately 1.51 pounds per year.
There are over 100,000 beekeepers in the United States alone, but Mark has always had a favorite.
“My uncle was always about telling people about the greater things in life,” he said during a Saturday morning fall festival at DK Landscaping in Largo where he and his wife, Jamie, set up a table to sell their bottled honey.
Jim Johnson died a few years ago from cancer. He accomplished a lot in his life, spending time as a science teacher and mechanic. But bees were his passion. That hobby trickled down to Mark, who, along with Jamie, took over Johnson Family Apiaries two years ago to honor Jim.
“He had a passion for people,” Jamie said, flipping through a photo album full of pictures of Jim working with bees. “He was an awesome man. He just always made you feel so good about yourself.”
That giving personality is a big reason why his nephew has taken to beekeeping.
“This is my getaway, my wife’s getaway, from the real world and the stressors that we go through,” Mark said.
The Tampa Bay Beekeepers Association has been a helpful organization for Mark. He and Jamie work in hospitals during the week and care for their 65 hives during their spare time.
“When his uncle died, I jumped into this wholeheartedly,” Jamie, who always wanted bees and a goat as a child, said. “I didn’t know when we first started dating that he had bees.”
She jokes that she doesn’t have her goat yet. The bees have kept them plenty busy. The couple does pollination and bee removals in addition to the honey-making. They really enjoy showing off a glass observation hive at farmer’s markets and fall festivals. It gives them an opportunity to teach about bees. Mark told the story of a 30-minute conversation he had with a teenager at the DK Landscaping fall festival. The child showed great interest in the hobby of beekeeping and Mark enjoyed sharing his knowledge.
“It’s labor-intensive but it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “We’re not out here trying to get rich. We just enjoy doing it and talking to people about bees.”
On a folding table sat a few dozen jars of honey for sale. Customers were offered four different sizes of the couple’s summer honey. Johnson Family Apiaries has sold over 200 gallons of honey in 2021 and is preparing to harvest fall honey soon.
“For us to be able to inspire people, especially kids, it’s so rewarding to us,” Jamie, who is pregnant with the couple’s first child, said.
Mark was busy talking to another family who walked over to see the observation hive. He wore a smile as a small child pointed at the queen, which was easily identified by the blue dot he’d painted on her back. During the first hour of the festival, many families came to see the bees.
It’s exactly what the Johnsons wanted.
“This is a vital part of who we are now,” Mark said.
Nearby, Jamie cradled her growing belly. The couple hopes to keep the sweet tradition going with their daughter, Georgia, someday.
“Thank goodness they make baby bee suits,” Mark said with a smile.