Keeping Thousands of Motivated Workers Busy at Locations Spread Across Cullman Co.
Thousands of workers prepare products for GoldVine Farms at 110 locations around Cullman County…and they don’t demand a single penny of salary!
They only require a safe, secure work location and plenty to eat.
Phillip and Nancy Garrison are actually GoldVine’s only "human" workers, overseeing honey production based at Phillip’s family’s Century and Heritage Farm location in the Gold Ridge community, and at other locations around the county.
It seems bees have always been a part of the Garrison family.
Phillip’s grandpa, Grant Garrison, bought the original 200 acres in 1910, moving there from the Breman Community, after the Garrisons originally moved from Charlotte, NC. Grandpa Grant was a well-known beekeeper.
That torch was passed to Phillip’s dad, William Gurvis Garrison, and he bought all but 20 acres of the family farm.
"After dad retired from bees in the 1980s, at first I didn’t see the need for any more bees. But it didn’t take me long to decide I DID need them," Phillip explained.
"A lady at church one day asked me where she could get some local honey and it just went from there. So I became a third-generation beekeeper. I started with just two hives."
Phillip relied a lot on prior family knowledge, but also researched everything he could find. He attended a workshop at Auburn in the early 1990s.
Now, his GoldVine Farms, around 52 acres, is registered with the Department of Agriculture with Phillip as a certified beekeeper and he is serving as president of the Alabama Beekeepers Association.
GoldVine’s honey is sold not only in stores throughout the area but also in health food stores, with production running about 6,000 pounds of honey each summer. A new fall crop should be ready when this article is published.
A beautiful gift shop, built a few years ago, sits on-site at the Gold Ridge location. While the outside is a sturdy metal building, the inside features walls of his grandfather’s barn boards, the original barn’s loft steps (used now as an attractive display) and other items for decoration including the old stable door.
The little roof over the old wood-burning cook stove is actually the "washboard" design metal roof from the farm’s old chicken coop.
Beeswax candles line the dining table, handmade by his grandfather, where "I grew up eating," Phillip explained. His grandfather’s chair sits nearby.
Hinged windows between the display area and the work area contain the original wavy glass; the curtain rods are the barn’s old roof’s lightning rods and the doorknob is a wooden spool!
Beeswax candles of practically every design line the shelves, including a full-piece Nativity scene, bride and groom, chickens, cows and more. Phillip also makes his own molds for many of the candles like different sized baby bottles.
When the Alabama Sweet Potato Association was holding their annual meeting in Cullman, Phillip made a mold from actual sweet potatoes to craft sweet potato candles looking just like the real thing!
Nancy crafts rolled beeswax candles as well.
(Nancy’s primary business is three poultry houses she operates on the couple’s Vinemont farm where they live. She has been chosen "Grower of the Year" and has won Heritage Cookoffs. She was originally from Vinemont and Phillip from Gold Ridge, thus the "GoldVine" Farms name.)
Phillip said the first question he’s usually asked about his honey is, "Is it natural?"
It couldn’t be more natural!
Each full frame of honey is first placed in the Decapper where rows of chains "decap" the honey cells.
Frames are then placed in the Extractor and the raw honey drains directly into a filter situated on top of a food-grade plastic pail. It’s then bottled and sold.
(The entire process is a little more technical, involving the stainless steel machines which cost more than $12,000 used, BUT they require little maintenance and last for years, Phillip explained.)
When folks want "local honey" for health reasons, many think it must come from really close to home, Phillip said. But he explained honey from Nashville to Montgomery all comes from basically the same type plants.
Honey is light or dark based on the plants where the bees feed – light-colored for clovers and vetch to darker for buckwheat.
Honey is usually harvested from April through about August.
If any medication is needed to treat a hive, Phillip stressed that must be done during the winter months when there is "absolutely no production."
While various kinds of mites have caused problems in the past, Phillip said beekeepers must be vigilant about Colony Collapse Disorder and other problems, which he hopes will run their course in the next four to five years.
Honey and comb samples from the GoldVine Farms are taken by the Department of Agriculture each year as preventative measures.
According to Habeeb Salloum, in the September/October 2009 issue of COUNTRYSIDE magazine, while honey is a high-energy food, it also takes a tremendous amount of energy to produce. "One-hundred-sixty-thousand bees make trips to two million flowers to gather the four pounds of nectar, which, on the way back to the hive they convert, by the reaction of various glands, into one pound of honey!"
While honey was the first sweetener mentioned in history, it has also been widely used for healing, medicinal qualities and just overall general good health through the centuries.
"We lost a few hives during the April 27th tornadoes," Phillip explained, "But we’re thankful it was not worse."
There are more than 500 members of the Alabama Beekeepers Association, with between 300 and 400 active members, Phillip said.
In addition to Phillip as president, officers, scattered around the state (indicating how widespread beekeeping is), include Damon Wallace, Opelika, vice-president; Bonnie Funderburg, Oneonta, secretary-treasurer; and board members: Mike Stoops, Excel; David Kelton, Gadsden; William Miller, Dothan; Bill Hewett, Duncanville; Jeff Lee, Athens; and Barry Banks, Jasper.
Lonnie Funderburg serves as editor of "The Stinger," the association’s statewide newsletter which is available through their website at www.alabamabeekeepers.com.
"Beekeeping is fascinating and there’s an art to it," Phillip explained, as he used his granddad’s old smoker to calm the bees before removing frames from a hive. "You just can’t get a more natural food."
GoldVine Farms gift shop is open by appointment. To contact Phillip, you may call (256) 734-5963.
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer in Blount County and can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.