Photos Courtesy Richard and Melissa Faber
Most beehives look pretty much alike. Not so the hives at Memphis-based Faber Family Honey Farm, which produces Sweet Melissa Honey. Look closely at Faber’s eight hives and on each one you’ll see a tiny mezuzah.
Some 800,000 honeybees spend their workdays pollinating flowers and making honey at Faber Family Honey. They may not touch the mezuzot when entering the hives, but Faber bees are definitely performing mitzvahs.
Faber Family Honey is a relatively new enterprise. It produces small-batch artisanal honey, with about 400 bottles per year. It’s the brainchild of Richard Faber, who retired in late 2019 from International Paper as an innovation manager. He first got into beekeeping via Melissa Faber, his wife of 30 years.
“She grew up on a farm where they raised bees,” said Richard. “And I restarted one beehive about 10 years ago. Most of my production up until now has gone to coworkers at International Paper.”
Since converting his “piddling” hobby into a commercial operation, Richard sells his honey primarily at farmer’s markets. He also has a goal of becoming the local honey provider of choice for the Memphis Jewish community. The preparation and bottling of Faber honey, and the product, are certified kosher. Richard and Melissa Faber and their three children attend Temple Israel. They also all participate in the family’s honey business.
“As a beekeeper, I kind of watch over them and make sure they’re all okay,” said Richard. “And on occasion, the queen will depart the hive with half of the bees and fly to a new location like an old tree. And the bees that that are remaining, they make a new queen and then they go on.”
Beekeeping and honey production date back to biblical times. Archeologists have found honey in Egyptian tombs. Remember, the Torah describes Israel as “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
“One of the things I like about doing this is that bees are 180 million years old,” said Richard. “The thing I love most about beekeeping is their process. If we found a buried treasure we’d be very secretive about it and wouldn’t tell anybody. But the bees, when they find flowers, the first thing they do is to help other bees find them. They even have a little dance to show them what direction the flowers are located in.
“The honey production process is something of an engineering marvel, and fascinating to behold,” he said. “Each beehive holds about 60,000 bees during the peak season, and we’ve got five acres of land. They’re pollinating flowers and gathering nectar. And what they do when they get to a flower, the nectar is a little watery. They bring it back to the hive and flap their wings to dehydrate the nectar. It goes from a 70 percent water content down to 14 percent. That’s why honey will not support bacteria and why it’s kosher.”
Bees are important to the environment since they are a key part of the natural ecosystem. I asked Richard if he considered his avocation to literally be an activity supporting Tikkun Olam. He said that was definitely part of the attraction, as well as providing a product that everyone can use. Honey is a unique condiment since it never goes bad. That’s an especially significant advantage as we enter spring and are stocking up on food during an unprecedented pandemic.
It also helps that Faber Family Honey is delicious. Every variety of honey has a slightly different flavor profile. It depends largely on the types of flowers the bees can locate and pollinate. The Faber’s home and beehives are adjacent to a wide range of flowers and ornamentals on their five-acre property, so their bees can feast to their heart’s content. So too can the fortunate customers of Faber Honey.
If you’re interested in purchasing a bottle of Faber Family Honey as a gift or to use at home, go to facebook.com/Faberfamilyhoney. You can contact Faber on Facebook Messenger at @Faberfamilyhoney