Deborah Sasser has more than 200,000 employees, and all they ask for is a place to stay and a little bit of pollen.
Sasser owns Sasserfrass Hill Bee Farms, where she cares for her bees and harvests from her 10 hives. She has had her hives for four years and has products ranging from fresh local honey to lip balm.
She was first stung with the bee bug when she was working as a producer for Comcast and did a story on a bee farm. The little insects fascinated her, and she bought her first hive. One year later, her department was downsized and she found herself without a job. She credits her bees with giving her an overwhelming peace about this midlife change.
“A few days before we were downsized, I had a dream that told me something traumatic was going to happen to me but that I must remain calm,” she said. “The night after I lost my job, I had another dream saying the bees will lead the way.”
Transitioning from producer to bee farmer was a change, but Sasser said it has been the best thing that ever happened to her.
“I’ve just embraced my girls and trusted they will take care of me,” she said.
Sasser said a bee would have to travel an average of 778 miles and visit more than 40,000 flowers to make one teaspoon of honey. The average bee produces much less than that, one-twelfth teaspoon in its entire life.
Sasser said scientists believe the honeybee population has declined by 50 percent over the past 50 years, primarily because of pesticides and destruction of their habitat. One of her goals is to raise awareness about harmful pesticides that are not only destroying the bee population but are also harmful to humans.
“We have just got to stop that,” she said of pesticide use. “If it’s strong enough to kill my bees, it’s strong enough to give you cancer.”
Bees are important for reasons besides the taste of their honey. Sasser recommends local honey to help relieve pollen allergies, and bee venom has been used as a natural anti-inflammatory. She has people with ailments ranging from multiple sclerosis to arthritis come to her hives just to get stung by her bees. After a few stings, the bee venom relieves the pain and loosens arthritic joints.
“It’s truly amazing,” she said.
Janice Badke is co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited on Augusta West Parkway, and her store carries Sasserfrass Hill products. She said the honey has brought customers in repeatedly because of its taste and health benefits.
“People get really excited when they find out it’s truly local, from right here in Augusta,” she said. “That’s a big deal, and we love it.”