Food Issue - Ray and Donna Lopes, Hidden Springs Farms, Williamson, Ga.

Ray Lopes is severely allergic to bee stings. With his biological aversion to bees and his thick New York City accent, he's the last person I expected to find producing honey on 109 bucolic acres in Williamson, Ga.

So how did a kid from Staten Island end up tending honeybees in rural Georgia? "My summer job as a teenager was to work on farms in upstate New York," Lopes explains. "I learned to work with bees then. It's something I always thought about doing again." After a corporate career that moved him around one too many times (the last time landing him in Georgia), Lopes and his wife, Donna, decided to throw in their lot with the bees.

At Hidden Springs Farms, the Lopeses raise cattle and peacocks, as well as harvest pecans from their orchard. But it's the bee business that accounts for about 70 percent of their income, generated by honey, beeswax, and the queens they breed and ship all over the country to other beekeepers and aspiring beekeepers. The Lopeses mainly raise Three Banded Italian bees, known for their gentle temperament. "Lots of people want a hive in their back yard that they can show their grandkids and not worry about stings," Ray explains. When Donna, bare-handed, pulls out a frame of one hive and holds it up on display, the bees busily work away and ignore the prying.

Hidden Springs honey, like all natural honey, varies in flavor depending on the kinds of plants the bees are pollinating while producing honey. During my local eating week, I started almost every morning with the Lopeses' tupelo honey, a rich, nectar-flavored honey that paired perfectly with tart goat cheese. As I sit here writing this, I am scooping liberally from a jar of wildflower honey, which Ray assured me would help with my allergies. What sweet medicine.

Hidden Springs honey and other products are available at the Peachtree Road farmer's market Saturday mornings, or online at www.hsffarm.com.

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