EunJin Newkirk is the business face of Newkirk Honey. She and her husband, Jason, have run the business from their home since 2011. They care for honey bee colonies in their backyard, which also is home to chickens, goats and dogs. They sell their honey at several local vendor fairs and recently opened a stand in the Marketplace at Steamtown. EunJin and Jason live in Scranton with their daughter, Areum.
Meet EunJin Newkirk…
How long have you been beekeeping, and how did you get started?
My husband started beekeeping in high school, helping his neighbor who had 10,000 hives, more than 20 years ago. Most of their work was for commercial pollination rather than producing honey. That was how he initially learned how to work with bees.
Why did he decide to continue with it?
We moved from Iowa in 2011 when my husband took a job in Waymart. I was sure that I could pursue a career in design, but it wasn’t happening. After a while, Jason began to urge me to start a beekeeping business. It became my full-time job.
What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part is interacting with customers. As a maker, hearing how people like our food is a wonderful feeling, and the encouragement keeps us going every day. Also designing my own label is a part of the job that I really enjoy.
Can you talk about the setup of your hives? You have this all based at home, and everything happens outside your house?
We set up our hives over different locations, but most are in Lackawanna County. A lot of them are located on the West Mountain in Scranton, which is also where we live. Last year and this (year), we maintained 200 hives over seven locations, and we plan to keep those numbers for a while. As bees don’t need attention every single day, we stop by one-by-one to see if any of them need more boxes or other maintenance throughout the year and harvest the summer honey.
Can you share a memorable beekeeping story?
Not too long after my daughter was born, we were going to drop the nuc boxes (mini hives that we rent from bee sellers) back to central Pennsylvania. We were excited about how good the year was going to be with new bees that we purchased. It was the first time we made a purchase with the money that we made by selling honey from a year before. I was about to get in the truck and got stung by a bee. All of a sudden, I started having a hard time breathing. My husband took me to urgent care, and I ended up in the emergency room. It was a big sign that I am very allergic to bee stings, but we had no idea. That night, we really had to think seriously if we can keep this business with my personal … condition. My answer was yes, because I was just falling in love with bees.
Why is Raw Honey Fruit Tea your favorite?
It’s created with my family tradition. I still remember that when the seasonal fruits started coming out to the market, my mom and grandmother always bought a bulk of them. Or oftentimes we just went to the orchards and preserved (the fruits) with bags of sugar and kept them in a jar, then made tea throughout the year. It was so good, and they told me how each of the different ingredients work for minor physical issues. As I am a beekeeper, I got creative with using my honey to make a better flavor in the most natural way. And it came out from there. But the thing that you have to know is, in Asia, “tea” means basically anything you drink. So tea often doesn’t contain an herb or any other dried leaves or flowers. Sometimes people ask if there is any tea in it, but it’s just a honey and dried fruit and natural extract.
How long have you lived in the United States? And what brought you here?
I’ve been in this country for 12 years now. I was born and raised in South Korea and decided to come to this country in 2006. I came to New York City to study English but always had a dream of living in this country permanently. There are many reasons why I wanted to be in this country, and I am making the dreams come true one by one. All I can say is whatever the reason was, I am in a dream that I don’t want to wake up from.
Can you talk about your family and what it means to you to be part of a family-owned business?
We harvested our first honey at the same time our daughter was born. Now she is almost 6 years old. When we started a business as a family, we wanted to be hard-working Americans who provided high-quality products and had integrity so our children can learn that the products that are sold are reliable and something they can be proud of.
What are your hobbies and/or interests outside of beekeeping and the business?
I had a minor in Asian fiber art, so I do embroidery and some crafting. But with my career and experience in the food industry, I am also interested in food product branding as well as visual marketing in farm brands.
What advice would you give someone who wants to try beekeeping?
Do it for fun. It’s a pretty expensive hobby if you really want to do it right. You can get easily frustrated as they are very difficult creatures to deal with.
Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into who you are today?
I am and have always been active. However during my pregnancy, I had a hard time dealing with muscle pains all over my body for the first time. So I started working out on a not-so-serious level only for a couple of hours twice a week. Now I feel even better than before the pregnancy.
What is a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
I always come up with crazy and quick ideas that make people surprised or panic. For example, I decided to come to the U.S. and all it took was a week of thought and the following week I was in New York City.