Sarah Bee Honey
Mark Fields likes to say he’s just two generations off the farm, but now, he spends his days just a couple floors below the hive. During the week, Mark is the executive director of The Grand Opera House, but on Saturday mornings like this one, he’s the head beekeeper and lead honey harvester at Sarah Bee Honey, Market’s biggest (and, as far as we know, only) hive operation. We asked Mark what he was thinking at the moment this picture was taken…
“Must Be. Very. Careful.”
“One of the fascinating things is how much I have come to care about these bugs, my girls. I'm putting that frame back in in the box, and I'm trying as hard as possible not to hurt the any of them – not just because they’re an investment, but because they've been working really hard for me.”
“I love to be up there, listening to the low humming buzz that comes from the boxes. By this time in the summer, there are probably 50,000 bees in each box, so there are 100,000 bees on the roof of the Grand. I check in on them at least once a week, depending on the weather, and sometimes more. And I'll admit it – I talk to them. I compliment them, thank them for the hard work, encourage them to do more of their thing. And no, they don't answer back.”
OK, so, how did this become a thing that you do on the roof of The Grand?
“Back in 2016, I worked with a group of people to create a community garden on Market Street. And I was thinking about what I could do to improve the farm in the second year, and bees immediately came to mind. They're great pollinators.”
“So I joined the Delaware Beekeepers Association, went to a training session, bought a beginner's hive kit with all the basic equipment and was ready to install them when Sports Connection, which was immediately next to the garden, had a fire … and for liability reasons, we couldn't garden there any more.”
“But I had this new knowledge and I had the interest, and a member of my staff said, ‘Well, why don't you put them on the roof of the Grand?’ It was a great idea. And what I found is that there are so many flowers growing downtown, the hive has found plenty to eat, so they've been incredibly productive.”
“My partner Wendy came up with the name. We have a room on the first floor of this building that's called The Sarah Bernhardt Lounge, named for the French actress. Internally, we call that room the Sara B. So Wendy said, 'Why don't you call it Sarah Bee?'”
And what does Market Street honey taste like?
Honey has a terroir just like wine does, based on the kinds of flowers that the bees gather nectar from. Last summer, the honey was this very pale gold, with a distinct floral taste. You could clearly taste roses in it. And it turns out that there's 30 feet of rose bushes behind DCAD, at the corner of 6th and King. Clearly the bees found that. In the fall, the harvest was a dark amber color, with a much more complex taste.”
Where can we try some?
“La Fia restaurant ordered honey from the harvest I had back in February, and they ordered more from this new supply. They're serving it on their cheese boards as a complement to their cheese.”
But otherwise, you’re sold out?
“I put had 24 pints and 24 half-pints that went on sale at midnight Sunday and it was all gone by six o'clock Monday afternoon. I sold more than 40 pounds of honey in 18 hours. I'm hoping to have more of a supply in the fall, but it's very popular.”