QUEEN BEE – Honey farm is this artist’s oasis
Photo by Allie Smith
Fifty miles outside of Baltimore, along the beautiful Eastern Shore in Chester, lies an idyllic and luminous 102-acre farm that’s causing all sorts of buzz … literally.
Amongst the open fields of wildflowers, frolicking butterflies and the occasional stoic bald eagle perched on one of the farm’s grand pine trees are thousands of happy, buzzing bees that are lucky enough to call this haven, Chesterhaven Beach Farm, their home.
Owned by beekeeper Kara Brook and her husband, Howard, the farm is where Brook harvests honey for both her honey product line called Waxing Kara as well as her encaustic or wax-based paintings.
Half-beekeeper, half-artist, Brook is a real vision of this combination. Wearing a full ensemble of earthy, natural-hued and flowing clothing, she appears like the chic naturalist you’d expect, while her eclectic, royal blue and ultra-modern glasses show off her artistic side.
On a typical day at the farm, you’ll probably find Brook inside their bright, modern and high-ceilinged farmhouse overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, going over Waxing Kara product designs or blogging for her brand’s website. Or she might be out in the backyard garden, which she calls “a kind of organized chaos,” where perennial flowers and lavender grow wild and specialties like mountain mint, which she says is “very loved by the bees,” sprout generously.
At some point in the day, Brook might head out on her “bee buggy” with her trusted bee staff into the colorful, lush fields that even Monet would admire to lovingly greet her bees with a “hey girls, how are you?” while checking in on the hives.
On her way back to the farmhouse from the fields, it’s often that Brook makes a stop at the farm’s “little beach” as she calls it, near the edge of the property, where it’s not unusual to find fox prints in the sand, a bald eagle feather or two or even a few field workers enjoying their lunchtime break fishing along the rocks.
Before dusk, Brook says she sometimes heads up into her studio above the garage for an hour or two, taking in the last of the evening’s precious light as it shines through the room’s grand circular windows and onto one of her latest art pieces, where she melts wax into abstract layered forms and creates other various encaustic-based works. Many times Brook finishes her day out on the back patio, taking in the breathtaking sunset — a moment she likes to call her special form of meditation.
Here, on this farm, with the open fields and the bees and the quietness all around, she can’t help but reflect on these daily naturalistic moments.
“I love how my life is so simple in this way,” she says.
While Brook and Howard spend their weekends at Chesterhaven, spending the other half at their Baltimore home, she does commit to the farm life while she’s there. It’s a deep dive into a nature-first world, where it’s all about her bees, the hives and drawing inspiration from the beauty all around.
Brook never imagined she would end up as a beekeeper living on this sprawling bee farm. An artist first, she initially got into the bee world because she was inspired by artist Tony Scherman, who used wax-based paints to create beautiful and unique works of art. She wanted to harvest beeswax herself in order to paint with this medium.
So, being a novice, how did she begin this artistic endeavor? By “searching the internet — the way all good things start,” she says, smiling. “I thought at first, I’d just be putting some bees in a box, and how hard could that be?”
Well, pretty hard, actually. Something her former self had to learn through the years. Fortunately, Brook was able to get advice from Scherman. “He was so helpful, kind, sincere and like a mentor,” she says, telling her where to go to school, who she should study with and where to get her materials.
This started initially as a hobby but soon evolved into a full-fledged honey-making brand. After she fell in love with Howard, she moved into his property, Chesterhaven Beach Farm, where he then helped Brook build it into the bee-supporting farm it is today.
Although not a stranger to business — she started her first business at 19 and eventually managed her own website- building company — she still didn’t see this honey-harvesting career coming. “I never intended on trying to make it into anything. I just thought to myself, well, just lean into it and see if it goes anywhere,” she says. “And that’s what I did. I leaned into it.”
She bought one hive and sought the guidance of a veteran beekeeper who had more than 50 years of experience. His approach involved “buying bees, making sure they are fed, putting them to work and then hoping for the best,” Brook says. “This type of approach wasn’t about chemistry.”
Yet today, Brook urges, it’s all about the right care, which involves chemistry. Last year, she devastatingly lost all of her hives to what she believes was a mite infestation, so she knew she had to make a change. She went to the University of Maryland’s Wye Research & Education Center in Queenstown, where she met Mike Embry, who was a modern beekeeper.
Using new strategies, Brook focused on treating the bees, taking care of their microbiome and giving them supplements. “Just like we need supplements, so do bees,” she says.
While she had hoped to hire Embry to help with her bees this year, he died as the result of a car accident. As she dealt with this loss, one of her friends and neighbors, a fifth-generation islander — which is common among Kent Islanders — called her up to tell her about a guy she should meet who could help with the bees. “That’s the way it works around here” she says. “On good authority, a helpful stranger returning your call.”
The guy told her about Embry’s previous assistant, Ana, who Brook had met before, and how she would be a perfect fit. “Get Ana over there, and it will be great — all you women and bees,” he says.
And this meeting was like beekeeper love at first sight, Brook says. Right away, they bonded, these two queen bees, with Ana now in charge of the farm’s beehives.
“I’m now taking heed from her and getting this whole situation repaired and in good order,” Brook says.
Through harvesting trials and errors, Brook has gained a deep appreciation for how hard her bees work, stating that bees work 9 to 5 and that when you “provide them with what they need to do their job and live well, they will provide you just as well with what you need from them.”
Brook emphasizes that this is why at Chesterhaven, they really are bee focused, developing a safe sanctuary for bees to thrive.
“Our apiary is different from any other apiaries because this is a 102-acre farm where we planted 40 acres of flowers solely as a way to sustain the bees and provide a really safe home for them,” Brook says.
Another important aspect in regard to safety is with the honey-production process. As the Waxing Kara honey is Star-K kosher certified, it is routinely checked at any given time to make sure it hasn’t been adulterated, overheated or overexposed.
Waxing Kara has a lot of other products, including body scrubs, facial masks and oils, teas and silky body creams, which have been sold in more than 250 stores nationwide. Her main shop, the Honey House, is located in Owings Mills and is where you can find Brook when she’s not on the farm.
With product names like “Strength,” “Harvest” and “Place in the Sun,” she says she wanted to choose names that were thought provoking. Her favorite scented candle is “Drone,” which was made for her husband. “He wears this tobacco and vanilla cologne by Tom Ford, and it’s the same kind of smell and reminds me of him,” she says.
All honey, all the time — yet, she’s still in love. “I literally find ways to put honey in everything.” Her husband once told her that before he knew her, “one jar of honey lasted me for 30 years,” which she assumes, at that rate, meant he was probably using it only once a year during Rosh Hashanah.
Brook has found that many people, husband included, connect with honey in some way, shape or form. “There’s no color, no age, no socioeconomic background and no cultural divide in honey,” she said. “Everybody has a honey story.”
And this — this artist queen beekeeper and her idyllic Chesterhaven Beach Farm full of happy bees —
is Brook’s story.