Isaac and Meagan Elzner of New Summerfield have a family business that grows up to 20 million employees a year. These 19,999,998 employees (minus Isaac and Meagan) are small, furry insects that collect pollen; they are the bees that create the honey and beeswax products sold by Elzner Farms.
Before bugs entered their lives, the Elzner couple lived a big city life in Houston. An ad online for a beekeeping device spurred Meagan’s interest in a ranch lifestyle. The Elzners began keeping bees at Isaac’s father’s property in New Summerfield on the weekends while spending their weekdays in Houston where Meagan, 34, worked in fashion design and marketing and Isaac, 36, was in the oil business.
As first generation millennial farmers, there was a lot to learn about the business of bees. “We probably weren’t the best beekeepers from the start,” Meagan said. “You don’t really realize what they need.”
Eventually the couple turned their weekend hobby into a full-time job, and they become full-time Cherokee County residents.The couple has two children, Douglas, 4, and Willow, 2.
“We were already looking for something with the kids because in Houston they can’t play in the front yard; there are too many cars,” Isaac said. “It’s slower and quieter out here.”
Elzner Farms produces raw honey and beeswax items like lip balm and hand salve.
Honey is a favorite in the kitchen. For a snack the kids suck honey from the honeycomb or spread it over warm tortillas.
“Douglas likes to hold the bees on his finger,” Meagan said. “If there’s a bee in the house, he’ll put a drop of honey on his finger so the bee crawls on his finger, then he takes it outside. When one lands on his hand, he says, ‘Look I made a friend.’”
The family has about 250 hives every 2 miles within a 30-mile radius of their house. The hives are located on multiple properties including in New Summerfield, Troup, Henderson, Cushing and Reklaw.
Isaac has a college degree in botany that helps him understand how to base his honey calendar off of the local flowers.
“The pollen doesn’t come at the exact time every year,” Isaac said. “Everyone wants a calendar date, but your calendar is nature and what’s flowering.”
They are both members of the Texas Beekeeping Association and Meagan is enrolled in the five-year Texas Master Beekeeper Program.
Elzner Farm’s products are sold at stores across East Texas including Jacksonville business Ritual, Joe Smith Farms and Break N’ Bread, Rusk’s Myra K’s Family Salon, Reklaw’s The Shacks on Main and Tyler’s Whole Health.
Their honey is raw, meaning it is straight from the hive. It’s unheated, unpasteurized, unprocessed honey.
“Typically what’s in the store has gone through a filtration and heating system,” Meagan said. “On a store shelf they heat the honey so it doesn’t crystalize. The filter takes out all the pollen. It makes that crystal-clear type of honey, but you lose all the benefits of eating honey such as taking it for local allergies or for the enzymes. It takes out all the natural stuff people really like to have in their honey.”
Honey is extracted in the summer. In the frames inside the beehives, the bees cap their honey. A tool is used to uncap the frames and let the honey flow out.
“It’s messy; it’s hard; it’s slow,” Isaac said.
After the frames are uncapped, they are placed in an extractor that spins to sling the honey out. After that the honey is stored in food-grade containers.
“It sounds simple, but you can’t be in air conditioning because it will cool down the honey,” Issac said. “It’s hot and really sticky. You’re constantly washing your hands. I enjoy it because it’s fun seeing the fruit of your labor. Most people hate it. Beekeeping is really hard work.”
The hive boxes weigh 40 to 60 pounds each.
The boxes have to be pried open with a hive tool because they stick together.
Each hive has about 60,000 bees, but in the spring it can increase up to 80,000 bees.
It’s a farmer’s life for the Elzners, and they’re proud of the progress they’ve made starting from two hives as a hobby to 250 hives as agricultural business.