Wildlife recovery project leads to cold fusion honey business for beekeepers in Sunshine Coast

When Leisa and Tony Sams bought a farm and reconnected the forest land that had been divided for a century, they never imagined where it would lead them.

Seven years later, they produce an award-winning range of pure raw honey infused with flavors such as organic ginger, turmeric, lemon myrtle, rose petals, chili, cinnamon, lavender, finger lime, vanilla beans, truffle and black garlic.

“We didn’t actually start because of the desire to have a honey business,” said Ms. Sams.

“We did a Land for Wildlife project on our 300 acres [121 hectares] in Peachester, on the Stanley River, with the goal of revegetation and securing a wildlife corridor from our back ridge to the river.

“With the help of a grant and the Sunshine Coast Council environmental officials, we sat down and said, ‘Let’s take a look at pollination and possibly get some bees to help with that’.”

Leisa Sams won a Nuffield Scholarship to research stationary beekeeping.(Delivered: Leisa Sams)

‘Bee Girl’ starts a buzz

Mrs. Sams – aka “Bee Girl” – started with five beehives and now tends to carefully place around 400 colonies of bees on properties from Gympie to Noosa and the Sunshine Coast to Moreton Bay.

“We wanted to do it differently because we ate it [the honey] and give it to our family and friends,” she said.

“So we don’t use chemicals, we don’t heat the honey and it basically grew from there.

“We bring the flavors of the Sunshine Coast into our honey.

A close-up of a honey stick resting on the top of a glass jar of honey with dried rose petals in it.
Organic honey infused with rose petals.(Delivered: Leisa Sams)

“Mike, my cousin, was our first health food store customer.”

Now their cold fusion products are sold in independent supermarkets, grocers, organic whole food stores, butcher shops and Yandina’s Ginger Factory, where the staff first encouraged them to infuse their golden honey with natural flavors.

Food Safety Key

Certified, chemical-free, edible flower grower Caz Owens hosts Hum Honey beehives on her property in Eudlo and supplies dried organic rose petals and petal mixes to the Samses.

“We love having Leisa’s bee girls here in our farm gardens – they are treasures,” said Ms Owens.

“With the current situation of bee-killing varroa mites and potential massive loss of hives in Australia, it is critical to ensure we protect our environment.”

Caz Owens smiles at a blooming rose bush
Caz Owens grows chemical-free edible flowers on the Sunshine Coast.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Cold extracting the honey preserves natural nutrients, vitamins, enzymes, pollen and antioxidants.

Honeycomb with a native blossom on it
The Samses also sell fresh raw honeycomb.(Delivered: Leisa Sams)

No syrups or artificial flavors are used.

“Our honey is bioactive, so even our standard eucalyptus honey is packed with great nutrients that are effective against bacteria, fungi and yeasts,” said Ms. Sams.

“We also do manuka that we have tested by the Sunshine Coast University Honey Lab.”

When asked if bacteria could be a problem without pasteurization, Ms. Sams said food safety was the first thing she investigated.

Honeycomb dripping over a soft cheese with capers and other cheeses in shot.
Hum Honey’s raw honeycomb combined with Woombye Cheese.(Delivered: Woombye Cheese)

“I went to JL Laboratories [an accredited food safety facility] across the street from the Ginger Factory and did microtests,” she said.

“We have done all shelf life tests and we do that as a regular part of our quality assurance program.”

Love for a ‘tough’ industry

The Samses are members of the region’s Food and Agribusiness Network (FAN) — a non-profit industry group that promotes collaboration, innovation, and encourages trade.

“I have the deepest respect for them,” said CEO Emma Greenhatch.

“It is a difficult sector and beekeeping is particularly challenging.

“Yes, they have their part to play as an individual company in terms of sustainability, quality and ethics, but Leisa always looks at it from an industry perspective and how she can transfer what she learns to others.”

A property where you can see separate forest areas in the distance.
The Samses are working to create a wildlife corridor to the Stanley River at Peachester.(Delivered: Leisa Sams)

Last year Ms. Sams received a prestigious Nuffield Scholarship to research advanced management methods for stationary beekeeping operations to improve efficiency and yield, and recently traveled to the UK to continue her research.

“It’s been a steep learning curve with fire, drought, COVID lockdowns and flooding. We’ve had highs and lows,” said Ms Sams.

“Ultimately you do this out of love for the connection with the environment and the networks within the food industry and the organic farmers. We have built a number of lasting friendships.”

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