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Clearwater beekeeper is no 9-to-5 drone

At first glance, Andrew Wolfe's home appears typical.

In this community off Starkey Road, in unincorporated Pinellas County, it sits among an assortment of block- and ranch-style houses. It's dotted by oaks and orange trees, hibiscuses and marigolds.

But this single-family dwelling is far from typical. Wolfe shares the house with more than 60,000 other residents.

He calls it A Taste of Freedom Farm.

Inside are his wife, Gloria, his father, Roger, and his 18-month-old son, Ulysses, Outside, there are ducks, chickens, a pond full of tilapia and a worm farm next to the compost bin.

Then there's the action on the roof.

"My girls are up there,'' said Wolfe, 28.

On the top of his home, he has created an apiary that includes four hives. That's 60,000 bees.

Wolfe, who is a sheet metal worker on the night shift, plans to keep the poultry and fish for his family to eat, but he aims to turn the beekeeping venture into his primary income in the next few years.

In the last 12 months, he earned $4,000 in profit from Freedom Farms, which includes five more hives he keeps at Gateway Organic Farm in Clearwater.

"I'd like to be making $30,000 on the bee business in the next year or two,'' he said. "We'd like to add another 100 hives in Clearwater.''

Jerry Hayes, chief of the apiary section at the Florida Department of Agriculture, says Wolfe has company.

"About five years ago, we had approximately 700 registered beekeepers. Now we are approaching 1,700,'' said Hayes, whose office requires a once-a-year inspection of registered beekeeping operations like Wolfe's. "And with that, Florida produces about 16 million pounds of honey a year.''

Wolfe concedes he's far from alone in the industry, but he thinks his success is found in his location.

"People get so excited when I tell them the honey is from right here in Pinellas County,'' he said.

In recent years, a folk medicine practice has become more mainstream. Many people with allergies believe incorporating locally produced honey into their diet, made by bees working with pollen from their own community, helps build up their immune system.

"I would say 90 percent of my customers want local honey for this reason,'' he said.

In the last six months, several produce stands and markets have begun putting A Taste of Freedom honey on their shelves. Stores include Nature's Food Patch in Clearwater and Rollin' Oats in St. Petersburg. Wolfe also gives Gateway Organic Farm jars of his honey to sell in return for letting his bees stay on the property.

"I need (Gateway) for my success since I don't have more land at the house,'' he said.

Pam and Hank Sindlinger own Gateway and appreciate the use of Wolfe's bees.

"It's a win-win situation,'' she said. "Bees are obviously so important to us, and Andy is a hard worker. If anyone can make a go in the business, it's Andy.''

Wolfe, who passed the General Educational Development test and received his high school diploma, says the bulk of his agriculture knowledge comes from time volunteering at Gateway Farm. "I also read an awful lot,'' he said.

He had trouble with the law in his younger years. "As a teen, I spent time at the Pinellas County Juvenile Detention Center,'' he said. "I was involved with gang activity.''

But Wolfe describes himself now as focused on his family and living a sustainable lifestyle.

"I like to read the classics, and I was reading some early American literature when I came across a Thomas Jefferson quote: 'If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.' ''

Wolfe began applying that philosophy to his own activities.

"I realized I wasn't really free," he said. "I was living a life of convenience and I was dependent on others for survival.''

About three years ago, he began talking with his father about changes at the family home.

Roger Wolfe, a retired lighting director who operates a part-time video production company, was skeptical.

"At first I hesitated, but he wore me down,'' said Roger Wolfe, 65.

First, his son took out the lawn to put in a fish pond and herb garden. Soon, he set ducks and chickens free to waddle through a vegetable garden in the back yard, explaining he wanted to keep the poultry and the fish for family meals. Then he began bringing home packages of bees from the post office.

"I've observed everything, and I approve,'' his father said. "I also add my knowledge when it comes to the business side.''

For Gloria Wolfe, her husband's interest in agriculture was a familiar lifestyle for her.

"I grew up in a similar setting, on a property near Whitney Road in Clearwater," she said. "We had animals and a horse farm.''

Ulysses sometimes watches as his father brings the wooden frames of honeycombs inside the house. He uses the living room table for the base as he extracts the honey from the combs.

The toddler watches from the kitchen as his dad melts and cuts the caps off the honeycombs with a hot knife and places the frames into a homemade extractor. As the contraption starts to spin, honey flies from the combs and into a barrel.

Later, they jar the honey together, labeling the different flavors. In April and May, it was orange blossom. In June and July, it's palmetto-wildflower mix.

Wolfe never saw himself as a 9-to-5 kind of guy.

"If I had the land," he said, "I guess my lifestyle would appear very Amish-looking, minus their hairstyle.''

Reach Piper Castillo at pcastillo@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4163.

Sweet shopping

A Taste of Freedom Farm's honey is available through the following businesses:

• Freedom Farm, myspace.com/tasteoffreedomfarm, (727) 439-4885.

• Gateway Organic Farm, Clearwater, gatewayorganicfarm.com, (727) 244-0724.

• Nature's Food Patch, 1225 Cleveland St., Clearwater.

• Rollin' Oats, 2842 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N, St. Petersburg.

• Joe's Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Market, 1610 S Greenwood Ave., Clearwater.

• John's Fresh Produce Market, 1496 S Belcher Road, Clearwater.

• Bob & Daughter Produce Market, 1262 Lakeview Road, Clearwater

Clearwater beekeeper is no 9-to-5 drone 07/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 3:47pm]

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