Modern Life: Life Is Sweet for This Family of Honey Makers

Children making honey

Photo by Christa Renee

Photo by Christa Renee

Necessity is the mother of invention, and no one is more inventive than parents trying to help their children. Five years ago, when the Johnsons moved from Montclair, NJ, to the more rural area of Hunterdon County, their son Zach’s asthma and seasonal allergies worsened. “We searched for a number of remedies to alleviate his reactions, which got more intense in spring and fall,” says Summer Johnson. “We’re always cautious about prescription medicines for the kids and look for natural treatments whenever we can, so we were optimistic when we read about the possible benefits of local, raw honey and how it could perhaps help prevent allergies.” The concept is called immunotherapy, and the philosophy behind it is to strategically expose the body to the element you are allergic to, which over time could possibly make you less sensitive to it, says Summer.  “In this case, raw honey—which has not been filtered or heated—contains pollen, and the body may become more tolerant of pollen, therefore reducing the allergic reaction.” 

Honey Makers

Photo by Christa Renee

Photo by Christa Renee

Summer Johnson, 40, visual artist and founder of Zach & Zoë Sweet Bee Farm; Kam Johnson, 39, enterprise director at Microsoft and beekeeper; Zachary, 9, and Zoë, 10, students and beekeepers. Kingwood Township, New Jersey

It helped Zach and inspired the Johnsons to pursue beekeeping and establish Zach & Zoë Sweet Bee Farm. After their first honey harvest, the family was hooked and slowly began purchasing additional hives. Over time, they began to infuse their raw honey with organic superfoods such as matcha, beets, ginger and lavender and sell it locally, getting the kids involved both on the farm and in the market. “The children really enjoy meeting customers at our market locations, and they also love doing the pop-up stands locally and in New York from time to time for a change of venue.” 

honey makers

Photo by Christa Renee

Photo by Christa Renee

The Johnsons like keeping their family active and engaged. They homeschooled for a few years in order to give their kids a more challenging academic environment. Now that Zoë and Zach are in traditional classrooms, Summer and Kam miss the quality time they had together, which also gave them the opportunity to travel abroad more frequently, something they all love. 

honey makers

Photo by Christa Renee

Photo by Christa Renee

“We’ve been to Iceland, Ethiopia, Kenya, Australia, South Korea and many other places. We wanted to share our family adventures and inspire Americans to see the world. Travel allows us all to see one another as equals and respect and enjoy our differences,” says Summer. That’s why she founded the travel-focused Upward Magazine, an online publication. They started posting photos on Instagram and began to document their journeys, and the idea grew. For now she has put the magazine on hold in order to focus on their honey business, which is thriving. 

honey makers

Photo by Christa Renee

Photo by Christa Renee

The couple, who met in church when both were living in Washington, DC, complement each other. Summer likes Kam’s sense of adventure. “He’s a born explorer who always has lots of ideas and is never afraid to try something new.” Kam is inspired by Summer’s creativity and her artistic view on life. Their children are a great reflection of both. They say Zoë is a natural leader who loves to learn, and Zach is wise, insightful and also has a wonderfully fearless sense of curiosity. 

The family has found balance by choosing to live in a rural area. They have chickens and grow vegetables in the spring and summer; it’s a life that suits them.

Raising their kids with kindness and humility is at the top of the list for Summer and Kam. “Compassion is extremely important in the times we live in, so we try to set an example by providing meaningful opportunities to serve others,” says Summer. “Empathy is one of the most valuable principles in our house. We try to be very purposeful about teaching this by exposing the kids to people from all walks of life and showing how we have more in common than we have differences.” It’s a philosophy that makes the world sweeter for the Johnsons.

Any suggestions for others interested in making honey?
I always suggest joining a local beekeeper’s association. Beekeeping has become extremely popular in recent years, and most communities have an association for beekeepers of all experience levels, from backyard hobbyist to commercial. —Summer

What’s your take on the never-ending quest for work-life balance?
Frankly, this is always a challenge, but we try to stay true to our core values even when our schedules are especially demanding. A big part of moving out to a more rural area was to get away from the hectic pace of life in the city. Summer does a great job of putting first things first. We try to eat dinner as a family every evening and limit technology devices to weekends only—simple things that make a big difference. —Kam

Summer, tell us about your art.
I’m a mixed-media portrait painter. I incorporate natural materials and memorabilia—dried leaves, pressed flowers, sand, anything that inspires and reflects the subject—into my art. I usually paint the figures in oil. 

Kam, talk about the work you do.
I’ve been at Microsoft for 10 years and lead a team of enterprise account managers who support corporate customers in the greater New York City area. I love this role as it allows us to leverage technology to provide meaningful improvements to our clients and their business processes.

What’s your favorite part of the day?
My prayer time: 3:30 a.m. It ends with a cup of chai with lavender honey, and a great book, the Bible. —Summer