Imagine going to the grocery store and seeing “Honeyka” brand honey next to Tony Packo’s pickle relish.
If that day arrived, it would be two food brands with roots in Birmingham, East Toledo’s historic Hungarian neighborhood.
That is the dream of the Birmingham Development Corporation, creating a cottage industry that is bottling and selling honey it manufactures and processes out the 100-year-old Magyar Garden on York Street.
The BDC is branding its Birmingham sweet honey “Honeyka” because it is an Hungarian term of endearment.
|Gwen Olic prepares to place the bees in the hive box.
(Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
“It’s like saying ‘Oh, dear’, or when a little kid falls down, you go, ‘Oh, Honeyka, what’s wrong?’” said master gardener Karen Wood of the Perrysburg-based Black Swamp Conservancy. “We thought it was so cool that it was a Hungarian word that would translate over to a name for our company.”
The long term plan is for funds from honey sales to help fund improvements for the Magyar Garden. An even longer term goal is to help fund the operations of the BDC so that money can be put back into the community.
Another goal is to hire workers to help process the honey, Wood said, to create jobs and make “Honeyka” a full-fledged business offshoot of the BDC.
“We want to get more successful by hiring people from the neighborhood and they can walk to work,” Wood said.
For now, the work is done by volunteers.
“We would like to get big, but we wanted to start small because we don’t think you should start out too huge,” Wood said. “You get growing pains and you fail. Ever year with our garden and our company, we add something, and this year we added four hives, and we’re putting up this greenhouse, we put up the fence, and we’re having a statewide open house there on the (August) 17th.”
The business has already begun expanding its product base.
“This year, we tripled our hives and we’re going to start making stuff out of lavender,” Wood said. “We’re going to make lavender soap because we grew the lavender next to the bees. The bees like the lavender and the lavender likes the bees, so we’re going to start making lavender sachets and other lavender-oriented products, too.”
The Honeyka business is the brainchild of Lucas County Administrator Peter Ujvagi, a Birmingham native with Hungarian ethnicity. Ujvagi falls back on his childhood to remember his own family gardening at the Magyar Gardens.
Peter and his son, Andy, still garden there, and came up with the idea of producing honey five years ago. Wood, although not an east side resident, was a college intern for Ujvagi when he served on city council in 1982.
“As part of that, Karen Wood shows up, and she was part of that process, and she has become the ‘Queen Bee,’ working on bringing the first three beehives to the community,” Ujvagi said.
“Now, we’re up to seven or eight. The results have been unbelievable. I mean, our gardens have become so much more productive. The raspberries that got produced last year, because the bees were around doing their thing, were just unbelievable. It came hand-in-hand — a revitalization of an old tradition — and then adding to it,” Ujvagi continued.
“This year, we’ve doubled our colonies and it’s going to be really great. You see, the Port Authority have now stepped up and are helping with funding, and The Anderson.”
The BDC rents the Hungarian Club building — two blocks away — for processing honey.
“It’s a win-win for them, and it’s a win-win for us because we only have to take the beehives two blocks away. It’s a perfect community concept,” Wood said.
The first year, 200 pounds of honey were produced, and the second year slightly less than 200 pounds. The first year, about $1,000 worth of honey was donated to neighborhood residents as a goodwill gesture. Last year, with seven hives, $1,000 was put back into the development corporation.
“This year we ramped it up because we have a fence now given to us and we’re getting a greenhouse. It’s awesome that (The Andersons) support us and we’ll have a place now to not only grow plants, but one corner of the greenhouse we can store our extra stuff for the beehives,” Wood, a Bowling Green resident, said.
“(U.S. Congresswoman) Marcy Kaptur is coming to look at it (last) Friday because she’s really interested in the plight of the honey bee. They’ve had colony collapse and bees have had issues with pesticides and a variety of other issues.
“That’s one of her issues, is, if we don’t have honeybees, we don’t have food. Seventy percent of our food is pollinated by bees and if the bees are disappearing, which they are, how are we going to eat? She’s big on agriculture for Northwest Ohio. She’s been a big supporter of us — she comes over about twice a year and revs up the troops.”
Wood says the bees have a better chance of surviving in an older neighborhood.
“People don’t have lawn services, so it can be a win-win to be poor, actually. I know it sounds crazy, but I know people who have bees in Perrysburg and they die every year because everybody has a chemical lawn service,” Wood said.
“But, on the east side you don’t have the money for lawn services so it’s a much healthier place for bees. One of the best places for bees is exactly where we are — the east side. I like to plug the east side. Finally, there is something that we do well. It’s the perfect environment for bees — they have the Maumee River for water a block away, they have no chemicals, and it’s a perfect place for the bees to live.”