In the solitude of the spring 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, a passion for beekeeping was born. Maya Tsimmer ’23, studying advertising in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with marketing minor in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, created Bethel Sweet Honey during the pandemic and launched herself into the world of locally sourced honey.
Tsimmer’s interest in locally sourced honey begins as a love story to the upstate New York countryside. Raised in New York City, her family owned a country house in Bethel, New York complete with floor-to-ceiling glass windows to capture the surrounding rolling wooded hills.
When the family house unfortunately burned down in 2008, her family was devastated but Tsimmer always maintained her love for the beauty of Upstate New York and an appreciation for its rich biodiversity and agricultural produce.
“We spent so much time working the land — planting pine seedlings so that pine trees would grow and keep on growing with the family history,” Tsimmer recalled of the home she lost in the fire. “People overlook Upstate New York. But it has so many incredible foods and it remains undiscovered when it comes to organic food.”
Tsimmer began to fully appreciate the agricultural richness of New York when she took up beekeeping as a hobby during COVID-19 isolation. While her family did not rebuild the home, they still visited the land often and stayed with family nearby. As she taught herself to tend bees and harvest honey on the family land, she began to see honey as more than product but as a storytelling of the New York ecosystem and an experiential joy.
“Our goal is to elevate honey, to go beyond honey as an accessory to tea or coffee, and to bring appreciation of seasonal varieties with uniquely local taste profiles and multiple uses that take a front row seat as a healthier alternative to sugar-rich spreadables, candy and much more,” said Tsimmer regarding the experience of honey. “When you take a spoonful of Bethel Sweet, you will think of your best summers, the lakes, the woods and Catskill mountains.”
With the desire to share honey as a joy and homage to the nature of New York, Tsimmer along with the help of her brother launched Bethel Sweet Honey, selling small batch unprocessed honey. The unique element of Bethel Sweet Honey lies in Tsimmer’s self-discovered straining process which creates tiny sugar crystals in the honey, creating a more interesting flavor profile and silky-smooth buttery texture.
In addition to regular honey harvested from her bees, she also created a wildflower honey, which includes berries natural to New York State as a tribute to its local environment. She also hopes to highlight the remarkable health benefits of honey, from immunity support, anti-allergen, and healing properties to increased nutrition compared to other refined sugars.
At present Bethel Sweet Honey is sold mainly through private markets and through a partnership with VR World, the US largest virtual reality entertainment center in New York City.
While Tsimmer right now must balance her passion for beekeeping with academic life in Syracuse, she hopes to expand Bethel Sweet Honey’s market and pursue its growth fulltime after graduation. Bethel Sweet at present is managed and operated by Tsimmer and her brother, but she’s currently looking to outsource more of the honey production to other local beekeepers, dedicated on preserving the local roots and artisanal quality of Bethel Sweet Honey.
Tsimmer’s story of starting her own business during the pandemic echoes experiences of many who found new directions in a time that fostered creativity during a period of isolation and stillness. For Tsimmer, her redirection pointed her back towards the childhood land she felt deeply connected to. Bethel Sweet Honey is a celebration of the beauty and farming of upstate New York and reflects Tsimmer’s desire to share the life of New York’s land with others.
“In a lot of ways, Bethel Sweet is a part of the land that was lost,” said Tsimmer.
Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow