“We’ve been fortunate in so many ways, including the wonderful customers and fellow growers. And the bees—the bees are amazing. They’ve been doing what they do for millions of years.”
–Keith Duarte, co-owner
“My wife and I always wanted to get into agriculture,” says Keith Duarte. “We were always big gardeners and shared that dream. She grew up in Poughkeepsie and I grew up out in Parksville [a hamlet of Liberty, in Sullivan County].
So we’re right in the middle now, and hardly a day goes by that we don’t look at each other and say how thankful we are to be here.”
“Here” is the couple’s Damn Good Honey Farm in Kerhonkson, where the girl from the riverbank and the boy from the Catskills have pursued their dream with a strong sense of purpose. “When we first started keeping bees, there weren’t a lot of resources out there for beginners,” says Keith.
“It’s something people want to do but they’re apprehensive; it’s a bit more esoteric and involved than planting a basic garden. We wanted to demystify the process.”
So once they felt confident in their skills, the couple began selling not just the Damn Good Honey itself, but a number of packages and training sessions designed to help you produce your own damn good honey. “A beehive in every backyard, that’s the dream,” says Keith. “Bees are still facing problems, yet there are more bee colonies than there were, partly because of the profit involved in commercial beekeeping and partly because of backyarders. For the bees to make it, we need more and more backyarders and more and more diversity.”
Besides running Bee Cool Bee School (only five students per class, that comes with a farm-to-table lunch), the Duartes offer a number of packages designed to set beginners up for success and help them untangle any concerns as they go along. The Beginning Beekeeper Experience offers set-up and bee installation of a hive of your own on the Damn Good Honey premises; they’ll train you hands-on, let you keep the honey and wax, and relocate the hive to your premises after the first year, when you’ve gained confidence and competence.
The Duartes offer a number of packages designed to set beginners up for success and help them untangle any concerns as they go along.
They’ll help you design and install an apiary on your property, inspect and troubleshoot an existing one, and come over and get the hives ready for winter. And they’ll gladly come collect any unwanted colonies or swarms.
“I tell people to expect to spend at least an hour and a half to two hours a week at first, much of it just watching the bees and getting to understand what normal looks like,” says Keith. “You can’t just set it and forget it and then come get honey in six months. New beekeepers need to be involved and hands-on, but it’s not terribly labor-intensive.” The Duartes are coming into spring 2018 with 33 hives and hope to end the year with 50; the ultimate goal is 100.
And the dream has expanded. On a leased three-acre plot near their home, they grow all sorts of produce. “We aren’t certified organic, but all of our methods are, and we invite our customers to come see how we do what we do. We wouldn’t sell anything we don’t want to eat ourselves or feed to our kids.”
A flock of hens laying cage-free eggs rounds out the menu. And just last year, the Duartes opened a roadside stand in a building on Route 209, leased from local writer/farmer Wally Nichols.
“He always wanted a roadside presence,” says Keith. “He’s great to work with.” In the store, the Duartes sell their honey and eggs and Jennifer’s handmade soaps and skincare products, alongside produce and specialties from best-in-class producers within a 50-mile radius.
“I think the farthest producer is Northern Farmhouse pasta from Roscoe,” says Keith. “We have so many amazing producers right here within 10 to 15 miles. Stuff like Tree Juice Maple Syrup—that’s a big seller—and Calmbucha kombucha from ImmuneSchein Elixirs. Not only is the product amazing, but so are the people behind it…. We handle products that embody the concept of food as medicine.”
Damn Good Honey also operates a u-pick CSA, so customers can craft their own crop shares and get peak freshness.
And you’ll find their wares at a number of health food stores, indie supermarkets, and farmers markets from Queens to Rosendale and Stone Ridge. “We kind of just took advantage of the opportunities as they presented themselves,” says Keith. “We’re having a fantastic time. There are always setbacks in farming, but we’ve been fortunate in so many ways, including the wonderful customers and fellow growers. (Damn Good Honey is a proud member of the Rondout Valley Growers Association.) “And the bees—the bees are amazing. They’ve been doing what they do for millions of years.”
Visit the Damn Good Honey website for more information about the beekeeping services they have to offer. Their roadside farmstand is located at 15 Old Kings Highway, off of Route 209 in Accord, and will open in the spring.
damn good honey farm
15 Old Queens Highway, Kerhonkson (store)