Cooler temperatures and changing seasons affect all farms and Ellis Farms, incorporating separate locations in Greene, Sullivan and Cocke counties, is no different. Robert Ellis, owner and operator of the farm, is preparing his honey bees for wintering after they retrieve sourwood honey in the mountains. He's also preparing a second location to serve his customers.
With Ellis closing his location at the Kingsport Farmers Market for the season in mid-November, he recently opened a second location at the Kingsport Town Center.
The holidays also impact business for the young entrepreneur. Ellis’ business mentality led him to invest in an Amish company from Liberty, Ky., that produces molasses, and his locations will be offering molasses throughout the winter months.
"We're selling the molasses by the quart because so many people cook with it," Ellis said.
And since many people will soon be looking for the perfect gift for Christmas, Ellis plans to offer design-your-own gift baskets. Customers can mix pints of his sourwood or blackberry honey with pints of his apple, pear and the newly-added pumpkin butters to create their own custom mix.
"Our butters are unique because we've replaced half the sugar content with our honey," Ellis said. "Honey is a better choice of sweetener than sugars, especially for people with diabetes."
In fact, some regular customers have told Ellis they're concerned with being able to get the honey with winter coming soon. The honey farmer said he is well-stocked and has started selling honey in plastic, half-gallon jugs. He's also in the process of adding even more hives to his growing honey bee population.
"I don’t have a favorite honey,” Ellis said, although he admits that blackberry is his best-selling kind. “I think of the honeys like children and you wouldn’t pick a favorite child.”
The beekeeper loves his job so much, he doesn't even wear protective gear anymore. He says the bees are used to him and they sense he isn't afraid of them. Still, he gets stung about once a week, usually when he picks up a frame and doesn't see a bee and pinches it by accident.
Aside from his love of beekeeping, Ellis enjoyed working last year within local schools as a substitute teacher and as a football and track coach. And he’s found a way to mix his two interests, by using his business to get local youth involved in dealing with the public.
"I see a lot of kids with extraordinary talents that are hidden because of their fear of talking to people," he said. "I like to get kids involved in selling our products so they'll be communicating with the public. I think when we get them to verbally and physically interact with our customers, it'll help them become more confident and build their self-esteem."
Ellis Farms' mall location is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday. His booth at the Kingsport Farmers Market is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturdays. For more information and for product updates, visit the Ellis Farms Facebook page or call 423-782-8944.