A West Southampton Avenue resident will soon be sending his homemade honey up the street for sale at Weavers Way Co-op's Chestnut Hill store.

After a string of meetings and an inspection, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture recently gave Benjamin Brown the green light to sell the sweet stuff he's produced in his backyard for years.

While it's kosher to make honey and give it away, commercial honey operations require the state's stamp of approval. In Philadelphia, they also require a zoning variance.

"The only thing you can do in your home is live in it," said Brown.

In mid-January, Brown completed the first of a four-step process for getting that variance by winning over the Chestnut Hill Community Association's Design Review Committee. The full CHCA Board of Directors then voted on the matter – a resounding yes – and sent a letter of support to the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment.

About two weeks ago, an agent from the Department of Agriculture came and inspected Brown's bee operation after he sent in an application with ZBA approval.

Brown said that step of the process was short and sweet. Honey's long shelf life, he said, made for a relatively smooth state evaluation.

"If you want to make things that have cream or things that can spoil, then it's a much more arduous procedure," said Brown

"There's no problem with honey. They just want to make sure that you're not so dirty in your operation that you're going to be putting bad stuff in the honey," he added.

Brown said the only notable difference in his operation is that he'll now have to sanitize his honey extractor with some Clorox. That process separates the honey from comb. He also can only sell his honey outside of his home.

To that end, Brown had about 2,500, half kilogram (about 1.1 pounds) honey jars shipped over from Italy. The effort has been a family affair.

Brown's brother Tim, who sells logging equipment in New Hampshire, arranged for the honey-comb embossed jars to come over with a Europe to U.S. shipment.

"He used to buy skitter-chain in Italy so he has guys that he knows there. And my wife's brother-in-law lives in Italy and he found where the manufacturer of this jar is, and it's in Pistoia near Florence."

The effort wasn't easy and the jars weren't cheap, so Brown is looking into asking Weavers Way customers to return the glassware when the honey's gone.

Brown plans to sell seasonal – fall or spring – and Linden honey, a prized variety made from the nectar of Linden trees. He said he has a few hives in backyards along Linden Road in nearby Wyndmoor in Montgomery County to make the unique variety.

Brown's Apiary honey will likely sell for a tad higher than most honey sold at the store, said Brown. Most of the honey at the Co-op is about $5 to $8 per pound.

The honey will hit the shelves as soon as the rest of the company's labels – designed by his son's girlfriend – are complete.


for NewsWorks