Ten years ago, The Lakelander was deciding what to cover in its first ever issue. Kelley’s Apiaries, a tiny off-the-beaten-path honey farm, might seem like an obscure choice – but for The Lakelander, it was perfect. 

“We wanted [the magazine] to feature grass roots businesses but give them the higher level treatment that they deserved.  And we wanted to dig up hidden gems around town and give them their due,” says Jason Jacobs, Associate Publisher of The Lakelander. “Kelley’s Apiaries was perfect for this.”

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Owner Robert “Bert” Kelley remembers the day the magazine was released.

“I had no clue that I would be on the cover until it came out,” Bert remembers. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a coverboy for the premier issue!’” 

The Lakelander wasn’t a known entity like it is now, but Bert’s friends and family were excited. One friend even made a big poster of the cover for Bert’s office. It’s still there today, leaning up against a desk. 

“I should’ve mounted that better,” he says. “I’m more proud than what it looks like.”

Since that first article, Kelley’s Apiaries has undergone a few changes. Most significantly, Bert no longer keeps bees.  “It’s hard work,” Bert explains. “And I don’t mind hard work, but somebody offered me money for the bees I had left and I decided that was the better option.”

“I had no clue that I would be on the cover until it came out,” Bert remembers. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a coverboy for the premier issue!’” 

Because of the seasonal nature of the business, it was difficult for Bert to balance beekeeping and managing the store without a full time employee – and the business isn’t busy enough in the summer and winter months to keep one on. 

However, one new guest moved in when the bees moved out; the shop cat, a tabby named Target (pronounced ‘Tarjay’). 

“She’s got a fan club out here,” Bert says with Target purring away on his lap.

Bert no longer houses the bees on site, but his business is still a key player in the local honey industry.

Some things haven’t changed, however. When asked what has stayed the same over the years, Bert laughed and said, “Well, I’m still here!” And, despite the change in beekeeping, so is the same quality honey.

“Since I bought this place I’ve always had to buy honey as well,” he explains. “I pretty much have the same product that I had then, probably more of it because I’m established and have regular customers.”

Because of those loyal customers, the apiary has been successful enough to help local honey distributors as well as the beekeeping community.

“I’ve got a lot of money invested in barrels of honey, which smaller beekeepers can’t store,” Bert says. “So by doing that I’m keeping the supply chain going through the whole rest of the season.”

From the big “Self Service Honey” sign out front to the scrappy tabby cat meowing hello, it’s impossible not to be charmed by Kelley’s Apiaries. 

Beyond the delicious honey, the real draw of the business is Bert himself. With so much wisdom, humor, and care for the community, it’s easy to see why Kelley’s Apiaries is such a gem of Lakeland – then and now.Photos by Tina Sargeant