With Rosh Hashanah right around the corner, the Jewish community will undoubtedly be stocking up on some essential staples such as apples and honey. The two sweet snacks represent the “sweet new year” that Jews look forward to, and ancient Jews thought the fruit had healing properties.
While honey will be enjoyed at innumerable celebrations, many are unaware of how much effort goes into producing honey and the intricacies of managing honey bees.
Kara Brook, a local artist and entrepreneur, owns Waxing Kara Honey House at the Metro Centre at Owings Mills. A New England native, Brook moved to Reisterstown at a young age for her father’s job. She has lived in the area ever since, having earned her degree in visual communications from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She has been painting since she was a little girl, but she found her passion when she stumbled upon encaustic painting, which relies on beeswax, tree resin and natural pigments to create uniquely textured pieces.
“I began to think about how much I would like to raise bees so that I can have my own wax and make my own paints,” said Brook. “I love the idea of a sustainable art form.” Luckily for her, she was able to realize her dream on Kent Island on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where her husband-to-be owns a farm.
With the help of a professional beekeeper over the past six years, Brook has expanded the farm dramatically. She now has 20 hives supporting a population of upward of 1 million honey bees. However, the masses of bees do not necessarily mean that the honey produced will be equally as much.
We might be the only apiary in the country that actually farms solely for the bees. — Kara Brook
“We only get 20 gallons of some of our honey,” Brook said. “It is hard to get, and it is only the best. We always have one big harvest in July, and if we’re lucky, we will have one around October.”
So little honey is produced because it can only be harvested once a year, twice if a farmer is lucky. Brook does have one big boast about her honey, however. “On our farm, they were originally growing a lot of GMOs (genetically modified organisms),” she said, “but in the last five years, I have replaced all of them with wildflowers to feed the bees. We might be the only apiary in the country that actually farms for the bees. I have learned all of this as I’ve gone along, I didn’t know anything when I first started.”
Although she started the business in order to be self-sufficient when it came to her artwork, Brook would always end up with a lot more honey than she did wax. She initially would just give away honey to her friends as gifts for Rosh Hashanah, but they all told her how good it was and encouraged her to start a business.
“Over the course of six to eight months, I accumulated products,” she said. “I started with a bar of soap, a jar of honey and a honey lollipop. I decided that I would master these three things and launch my business based off of that.”
Today, Brook and her associates have expanded their range of products to include an array of beauty and hygiene products. “We make body scrubs and dry masks here at the store,” Brook explained. “All of the products are all natural from crops pollinated by bees. We use only crops pollinated by bees in these products to raise awareness about bees.”
Local spas have begun to stock and use products from the Honey House, but consumers can buy them directly from the store too. According to Brook, honey has long played a role in beauty. “Honey is a humectant,” she said. “It is a natural antiseptic. Cleopatra used milk and honey in her baths to keep her skin beautiful.”
Brook collaborates with several other beekeepers in the area to source “really raw honey.” According to Brook, collaborating with other beekeepers enables her to produce a wider spread of honeys.
“Our honey from the Eastern Shore is named by the season it was produced,” she said. “Blueberry honey is from a farm in New Jersey. If a honey is produced with 75 percent of the nectar coming from one flower source, you can call it a single varietal, so this blueberry honey is more than 75 percent from blueberry plants. If a beekeeper isn’t willing to talk about origins with me, I know that it is not the type of honey that I want to carry. Orange blossom is from Florida, wildflower is from Delaware, clover from upstate New York.” Collaboration enables Brook to provide more varietals locally.
Around this time of year, business gets particularly busy due to Rosh Hashanah, said Brook. Corporate customers will order in bulk, and people will order specialized honey as gifts for their friends. This past week was a milestone for her business, as it hit an all-time record for the number of items it had shipped across the United States.
For Rosh Hashanah this year, Brook agreed to collaborate with Beth Israel Congregation after the synagogue got in touch with her about sending people to her store. For members of the congregation who plan to purchase holiday honey at Waxing Kara, 10 percent of profits are being donated to Beth Israel if customers specify that they are members of the community when making a purchase.