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Sweet Treat

ELKINS — Many local residents who love the sweet taste of honey don’t realize that West Virginia is one of the best places in the country to make the sticky delight.

Honey that is produced in the Mountain State is known for its intense flavor, which changes yearly depending on the pollen and growth in the spring. These days, residents in West Virginia are capable of making a living derived solely from bee-keeping.

Two local businesses, S&T Bees in downtown Elkins, and Mountain State Honey Company in Parsons, proudly produce honey for both locals and to those who live out of the area.

“West Virginia is one of the best places that you can keep bees because you don’t have the environmental effects like pollution and things like that,” said Stephanie Bender, owner of S&T Bees. “A lot of my customers come from all over the state, mostly because there are just not a whole lot of places you can go to get what we sell and take classes. A lot of people want to put their hands on stuff before they buy it out of a catalog or online.”

Bender’s business, located on Third Street in Elkins, offers a little bit of everything when it comes to bees and honey. Not only can you purchase honey, beeswax candles, chapstick, salves and lotions made from hives, but everything needed to become your own beekeeper is also available at the store.

“We sell everything to get you started, all the way through any process and right up to extracting your honey from your hives,” Bender said. “We also have a beginning beekeeping class in February every year. It is a free class and we have six teachers that we bring in from all over West Virginia. In the past we would see anywhere from 50 to 60 people in classes. But at our new location we don’t have as much room so now we are seeing about 30 per class.”

Bender also holds classes for children where they can learn about bees and the honey-making process. She also teaches kids in the classes how to make candles from beeswax. This past week she hosted a group of children taking part in the local YMCA Summer Camp.

S&T Bees, which has been in business for 10 years, has its own bee farm at Bender’s house that consists of 42 hives. Unlike most stores’ honey which is filled with extras that take away many of the health benefits, Bender prides herself on selling nothing but pure 100-percent honey.

“There are different processes, but for us it goes directly into the jar,” she said. “It goes from hive to extractor to straight into the jar. It passes nothing else and that gives you raw honey and that’s what people want because they want the health benefits.

“A lot of the honey you purchase at the grocery store, or a really big commercial beekeeper, is going to be processed,” Bender noted. “That means it comes out of the hive, straight through a filtered system, then it’s also heated and then it gets bottled. When it does that, it takes away any of the good health values. That’s why it’s important to understand that raw honey is what you want to have.”

Bender also pointed out that honey never goes bad. She said it was found in King Tut’s tomb and it was still edible after three thousand years.

S&T Bees also offers a 15.5-gallons honey keg from which you can fill your own jar of honey at the store. If you purchase a glass quart or glass pint at the business, you will get money back each time you refill it, officials said.

In Tucker County, Alisa and Paul Poling are producing lots of honey at Mountain State Honey.

The business has close to 2,000 hives that produce somewhere around 60,000 pounds of honey during the months of production, May through September.

The business began as a hobby to produce just enough of the sweet treat for the family to consume.

“My husband asked me one day if he could have a hive in the backyard just as a hobby,” Alisa Poling said. “He really got interested in watching the bees and what all kinds of honey you could get. It really just snowballed from there to what we have today.”

Poling said the company, which has continued to grow for the past 25 years, sells honey all over West Virginia and some of the bordering states. Mountain State Honey Company employs seven individuals during the production season. The business started mail order honey sales on its website last year.

The company also sells beehives, beeswax, candy, soap, honey walnuts and an array of different flavored honey at both its location and online. The business’s honey is harvested from its own bees and is not pasteurized. With the exception of the honey stix and honey candy the business sells, everything is handmade.

Mountain State Honey Company is located at 334 Pennsylvania Avenue in Parsons.

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