Graham beekeeping ‘Workday’ stops in Graceville
By Angie Cook
Floridan Reporter | Posted: Monday, April 25, 2016 8:45 pm
Graham visits Smiley B Farms
U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham’s latest “Workday” brings her to Smiley B Farms, Monday, April 25, 2016, in Graceville.
GRACEVILLE — U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham walked into a sticky situation Monday morning, but left with a better understanding of what it takes to bring a jar of honey to grocery store shelves.
Logging a partial “Workday” at Smiley B Farms in northwest Jackson County, the congresswoman got a hands-on lesson in honey extraction from owner Allen Scheffer and his son Jamison Scheffer.
From wooden boxes stacked nearby, honey- and wax-filled racks were pulled and fed trough the motorized uncapper, a machine that scrapes away wax, freeing the honey inside the comb. A spinner then used centrifugal force to separate the wax and honey so each product can be stored for additional processing and eventual distribution.
Monday’s harvest was wildflower honey, and once that was removed from the racks, those same bees were bound for Wewahitchka, where the coveted tupelo plant is just starting to bloom.
Longtime beekeeper Laurence Cutts said the prospects of a solid tupelo honey harvest are much better than last year, when two days into the season, rain arrived that would stick around for 10 days and wreak havoc on the prized tree.
“Last year was the worst tupelo crop I’ve seen in my life.”
“The bloom molded on the tree.”
Tupelo fans may be in luck this year, but for the record, Cutts prefers the smooth finish of palmetto honey.
Retired from the day-to-day activity of the family’s third-generation beekeeping outfit in Chipley, Cutts developed a small hive beetle trap that he still sells. A former apiary inspector for the state, the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame inductee has had an impressive career in the field, but participating in a “Graham Workday” on beekeeping was some 40 years in the making.
In 1976, plans to host a bee-themed “Workday” with the congresswoman’s father Bob Graham were derailed when the then-state senator got a chance to serve as engineer a train commemorating the bicentennial.
“I would’ve done the same thing,” Cutts said in an understanding tone.
Despite going on to log over 400 “Workdays,” Graham never rescheduled the event, but his daughter is quick to point out, “My father is afraid of bees.”
Rep. Graham put on a brave face with the insects that were buzzing around the barn, but her body language indicated she wasn’t completely at ease with the bees. For reassurance, second-grader Jamison advised the congresswoman not to wave her arms around, but instead take a targeted approach to removing any bees that land on her and simply thump them away.
While the elder Scheffer walked Graham through the process of extracting and storing honey and explained larvae grafting to grow new queens, Cutts and young Jamison weren’t shy about calling the congresswoman’s attention to a cause they care about — funding a research lab where scientists at the University of Florida can find new ways to protect honey bees, which not only bring honey to our tables, but can help pollinate roughly one-third of the nation’s crops.
Projects like that are one’s Graham may be asked to address if her gubernatorial aspirations are realized.
Graham’s Graceville visit came just days after releasing a video announcement of her decision to not run for reelection in the remapped 2nd Congressional District and going public with a possible run for governor, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather. The news ended months of speculation about Graham’s political future that went on while legal battles over a more Republican-friendly district played out.
Reaction to the announcement, as Graham sees it, has been “so incredibly positive,” not an unexpected assessment from a politician who’s famous for being quick with a hug for constituents, colleagues and strangers alike, and who campaigns on promises of working across the aisle.
Whether her agreeable demeanor would withstand the pressure of a governor’s race remains to be seen. For now, announcement behind her, Graham is content to make the most of her remaining time in Congress representing Florida’s 2nd District.