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The Buzz Around Savannah Bee: The Ted Dennard Interview

The Buzz Around Savannah Bee:
The Ted Dennard Interview
By James Calemine

Ted Dennard's company, Savannah Bee, ranks as one of the most vibrant small companies in the honey industry. Since 2002, Ted's Savannah Bee continues to expand and diversify by producing some of the purest honey-based products in the country.

St. Simons Island, Georgia, native, Ted Dennard has traveled to New Zealand, Vietnam, Ireland and France to learn various beekeeping practices through the years. Ted's work ethic, and indelible products earned Savannah Bee a 2010 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur nomination. Recently, Savannah Bee was featured on CNN's Small Business Spotlight. Savannah Bee products have been exposed in Oprah Winfrey's magazine, Vogue, Better Homes & Garden, Southern Living and Rachel Ray's Body & Soul to name a few periodicals.

Ted studied and graduated from Sewanee, The University of the South. In the 90s, Ted lived in Jamaica for over a year--serving a 27-month tour of duty in the Peace Corps--where he taught  virtues of beekeeping to school children and church groups in St. Mary Parish. Ted wrote this as Savannah Bee's continual earthy ethic:

"Honeybees truly weave magic out of sunshine. These creatures of light continue to enrich their surroundings as they recite their timeless hum. In addition to appreciating the miraculous role played by honeybees, we humans should do whatever we can to live an environmentally-responsible lifestyle and promote a clean and healthy planet. We must do our part to support these wondrous creatures, in gratitude for their many contributions."

I've known the Dennard family over 30 years. I attended school with Ted and his brother Jeff, and on constant trips over to their house as a kid I eventually met their Author-Globe-Trotting-Hoste-Owner-Attorney father, Tom. They shine as a bright bunch. In this Swampland interview, Ted discusses his history with bees, origins of Savannah Bee, the honey-making process and various product information. For recipes, a beekeepers journal and shopping options, visit savannahbee.com.

James Calemine: Your history with bees goes back for years. Tell me how you finally started up Savannah Bee.

Ted Dennard: I'll give you three starts. The first one was when the old man (Tom) told me I had to take care of the bees out at the hostel. The second time was when I first sold my jars of honey to Jennifer Beaufait-Grayson in 1999 in her store. At the end of 2001, I officially started the company as a corporation in January of 2002. Before January of 2002, I didn't have a price sheet or a brochure. All I had was jars of honey.

JC: Talk about the honey-making process.

TD: There's honey bees and they are one species out of thousands of species of bees. Really they are the only ones that make honey in any amount that you can collect. All honey comes from honey bees--it's a sting-less bee. They live in a box. They've adapted to living in cold climates. So they can thrive all through Europe.

JC: What is the particular time for a honey harvest?

TD: Well, the ideal thing is they build up their population in the early spring--late winter. What that means where we live, at the end of January when the Red Maple first blooms--that's when the Queen starts laying a whole bunch of eggs. They bring the population back up. They'll go from 25,000 bees up to around 100,000. They use all the nectar from early spring flowers to raise bees. The bees have to be fed, and that's where their building their little micro-business. In April the bees really start cranking out some honey to actually make a surplus of honey.

So, basically April, May and June you make honey. You still make some in July. Then a little bit in August. In fall, when there's no more nectar coming in like now (late November) they kick the drone bees out and they starve to death.There's only a few hundred drones as opposed to tens of thousands of workers. In two cold months they're eating honey. They survive until spring again. Then they'll drop down to a maintenance population when there's maybe 20,000 bees.The peak demand is right now. My bees are now just a hobby. The demand is so great the honey doesn't come out of my hive. I buy from other beekeepers who I have a good relationship with and they know what I want.

JC: Are they local?

TD: No, some are on the Altamaha River. They make the Tupelo Honey, and we buy from folks out on the Apalachicola River in West Florida. That stuff is great. Those are the only two river systems in the world that can make the Tupelo Honey. I have another guy in Florida who makes the Orange Blossom Honey. A guy in the Okefenokee Swamp makes my honeycombs...

JC: What were the first products you started selling?

TD: We started out with honey and then candles. Then it became honey, candles and lip balm. It stayed that way until 2004 when I did a deal with Bath & Body Works. We co-created this expanded brand of Body Care.

JC: Savannah Bee was, among other things, featured in Oprah Winfrey's magazine. There's great exposure...

TD: Oh yeah, we got into Oprah's magazine before that, which was nice. She featured us three different times on her website. Vogue passed out a bunch of our Body Butters once.

JC: Are there any new products you'd like to talk about since the holiday season is here?

TD: Yeah, we have our Winter White Honey that's real festive. It's creamy with a peanut butter consistency. It's got a red label, and it's universally loved. We have three lip balms, and three that have color--so we have six lip balms in total. The lip balm is organic. They are 100% natural. Our Body Butter is 99% natural. Those are good gifts...

JC: You also give tours at Savannah Bee, and try to educate folks on the wonders of beekeeping...

TD: We do. Yesterday I gave a highschool nutrition class a tour through our bee garden. Our goal is to be the best in the business. Our mission is to sell the highest quality product while educating people about the honey bee. Education is a big part of it. We put educational stickers on all of our boxes.

JC: Talk about the Peace Honey Project Savannah Bee is involved in...

TD: The Peace Honey Project is tied into The Heifer Project International program. We buy honey from beekeepers that The Heifer Project set up. Since the 1930s or 1940s they give a cow to an African village and teach the kids how to raise the cow. It's a real good thing. They do over 30 domestic animals, and one of them is the honey bee. They give a beehive to the community in Honduras. We buy their honey from those beekeepers to support them and their families. We buy the honey and bring it here and bottle it. Every bottle we sell, we give three dollars toThe Heifer Project. We've given them a nice chunk of change this year. So, we do what we can...

JC: Well, keep up the good work, and let's do this again next year...

TD: Thanks, James. Sounds good man.


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