Roark Acres Honey Farm
Family-owned business makes local honey in Tulsa.
Beekeeping, as a hobby, has gained in popularity in recent years. However, it’s more than a hobby for the Roark family; it’s a full-time business and one that provides sweet returns. This buzzing business relies on all family members to help out, especially in the spring and summer months when they are the busiest. During this time, Roark Acres frequents local farmers’ markets with their “Okie Honey” as well as other honey-infused products.
Getting to know Michael and Amy Roark
TK: How long have you been a beekeeper?
Michael: Four years
TK: How did you become interested in beekeeping?
Michael: In the spring of 2012, I noticed many of the squash blossoms in my garden were falling off un-pollinated. I did some reading and got to thinking about bees. The clover was in full bloom in my front yard and I had to look hard to find one or two bees in a half-acre. This was surprising to me because when I was young, I remember barefoot summer days in my grandma’s front yard when I really had to watch where I walked because there were bees everywhere. It was then that I decided to get some honeybees of my own. That first year we had two hives, and I was hooked. The next year, we had 15, then, in the third year, 150 hives, and this year, we have between 300 and 400 colonies. I really love spending my days and, often, nights working outside. It’s a big change from sitting behind a desk, but infinitely more rewarding. (According to Michael: A colony of bees lives in a hive and a hive can refer to the colony of bees or the boxes they live in.)
TK: What aspects of the business are you responsible for?
Amy: I collect the bee pollen from our hives and am in charge of marketing, sales and organizing trade shows. I really enjoy working with people, more than bees, and like talking to folks at the local farmer’s markets and selling honey as well as our various healthcare products.
TK: How many stings have you received since you have been working with bees?
Michael: I have no idea! But a wise old beekeeper told me, many times, only the first 10,000 hurt.
TK: What makes a bee sting?
Michael: The bees you see out gathering nectar and pollen will almost never sting you unless you startle them. Stinging is their defense mechanism and when bees are out gathering, they really have nothing to defend. Bees near their hive are more apt to sting if they see you as a threat.
TK: What makes them calm?
Michael: Genetics, smoke and a gentle hand. There are many breeds of bees and some are more aggressive than others. Smoke masks the alarm pheromones bees release when threatened. It also gets the bees to fill up their bellies with honey in case they have to abandon the hive due to fire. Think food coma after a big Thanksgiving dinner, similar effect. And lastly, a gentle hand. When working or moving around a beehive, slow, controlled movements seem to help, providing less of a threat and keeping the bees calm.
About Roark Acres
TK: What specific time frame do you harvest the most honey?
Michael: We harvest most of our honey, here in Oklahoma, from the end of June to the beginning of July.
TK: What do you do to prepare for the rest of the year?
Michael: We spend much of the fall and winter building new equipment and fixing old equipment. In January, we get our bees ready for the trip to California where they help pollinate almonds. In March, we split beehives. Splitting is basically taking the bees from one beehive and splitting them to make two or more beehives. In April and May, we get the bees in place to make honey. In June and July, we harvest the honey.
TK: What products do you offer?
Amy: We try to make sure nothing we take from the beehive goes to waste. So, we make candles, lotions, and lip balms from the wax. We have honey still in the comb in the early summer. We have creamed honey, which is a crystallized spreadable honey. It’s one of our most popular items! And, of course, we have jar after jar of that liquid gold – raw, pure, sweet, Oklahoma honey.
TK: Where can customers find your products?
Amy: On Saturday’s at the Tulsa Farmers’ Market on Cherry Street. Every other Wednesday at the Brookside Farmers’ Market. Thursday evenings at the Guthrie Green Market. We also do many of the festivals and trade shows all over the state. (For information, go to www.roarkacres.com)
TK: How does “raw” honey differ from regular honey?
Michael: The basic difference between raw and regular honey is the way it has been processed. Raw honey has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of heating honey up to high temperatures. Raw honey is packed with goodies like Vitamin B and Vitamin C. It has antibacterial and antioxidant properties, which can help keep your immune system strong. Pasteurization eliminates many of these beneficial extras in honey.
TK: Does it help with allergies?
Michael: Honestly, I have read both that it does and that it doesn’t. Eating raw honey is like a gradual vaccination against pollen allergies. Honey contains a small amount of pollen. It stands to reason that if the honey you eat also has pollen you are allergic to, it can help you build up a tolerance to that particular pollen. Many of our customers swear by it. I always tell folks to talk to their allergist, I’m just the beekeeper.
TK: If people find bees on their property or around their home, is that something that you can take care of?
Michael: I don’t personally do any bee removal. I refer folks to my good friend, Bob Martin, to get that job done.
TK: What is the process to remove the bees safely and how long does it take?
Michael: It all depends on where the bees are. If they are in a swarm clustered on a tree branch, it’s a quick job to get them re-homed and moved out. If you have a colony that has moved into a wall or some other closed space in your house, garage or shed, it can be a full day’s work.
TK: How many kids do you have?
Michael: We have four kids; three girls and one boy. Ages 24, 21, 12, 7.
TK: Does your family help out? If so, what do they do?
Michael: The older two have their own jobs and live outside our home, but have helped on occasion. My 12-year-old daughter is the most involved at this point. She helps every Saturday at the farmers’ market. She’s great with customers and has learned a lot about bees and honey. She isn’t as eager as she once was about working bees but she will put on her bee suit if I really need her help. My youngest loves to give out samples. He is very persistent, so you might as well take a sample if he’s offering because he’s not likely to give up until you do. Amy’s mom is also a great help getting the honey bottled, labeled and ready to sell. She’s often in our booth and is great with customers.
TK: In your free time, what do you like to do as a family around Tulsa?
Michael: Free time? What’s that? This business is more of a lifestyle than a job. When we do have some free time, we enjoy a bike ride on one of the many trails around town or some air time at one of the trampoline parks. Hopefully, we’ll get more time on the lake this summer; it’s one of our favorite things to do.
Michael: I really do love this lifestyle. The bees are a super example of a family unit working together to achieve a common goal and beekeeping has done much the same for my family. Everyone is involved and is excited about being involved. It’s really an adventure, and we are just getting started!