How Joe Suhre turned beekeeping into a thriving business
Published in 2022 Ohio Super Lawyers magazine on December 30, 2021
Joe Suhre can’t seem to get away from bees—even at the courthouse, where he has just spent part of his morning. “I probably spent 10 minutes in the courtroom and 20 minutes talking about honeybees,” he says. “I can’t go through the courthouse at any point without somebody stopping and talking to me about our honey, or ‘How are the bees doing?’”
Suhre has been a criminal defense attorney for 22 years, and before that he spent four years as an auxiliary police officer in Blue Ash. Nine years ago, after he moved to a house with 1.3 acres on the outskirts of Cincinnati, an old friend who keeps bees asked if Suhre would be interested in setting up a hive on his new property. “It intrigued me,” says Suhre. “It was something I thought we could do as a family.” His wife, Mary, bought into the idea right away.
Thus the Indian Hill Bee Company was born. The Suhres now have 25 honey-producing hives. Everyone in the family—including sons Joey, 14, Mac, 12, and Jake, 10—participates in jarring, labeling and shipping honey.
“Mac is my junior beekeeper,” Suhre says of his middle-schooler, who helps out with the day-to-day beekeeping and narrates informational videos for Indian Hill Bee Company’s YouTube channel. “It’s kind of being a good ambassador of beekeeping, and providing information to folks in a way that’s easy to understand.”
The time commitment varies: 10 hours a week for spring prep after the long winter; just a couple of hours a week while the bees “do their thing;” then lots of work for the spring and autumn harvests.
Suhre considers his side job an escape from the demands of his law practice, where he defends clients against DUI and other criminal charges. He hung out his shingle as soon as he was sworn in, and his firm has expanded to eight attorneys in offices in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
Beekeeping is a welcome contrast. “Many aspects of it are solitary,” he says. “I put in my AirPods. I typically listen to John Denver. … It’s nice to be able to just kind of tune everything out and focus just on working with the bees.”
And focus is necessary. “Handling the bees the right way—doing inspections the correct way, being gentle with them—makes them happier, which means fewer stings for me.”
Lessons have been learned along the way. For the kids, there are business basics—“the value of what it takes to actually run a business as opposed to just have a job,” Suhre says. For Suhre, one lesson stands out. It was after a storm, when he went to take care of a hive that got knocked over. “I put on my beekeeping pants. I put on my jacket. It’s got a hood attached to it and I zipped it up. … Well, I didn’t get it quite all the way up there, and I didn’t notice it till, as I’m working with the bees, they became quite irritated with me and a couple of them found their way into my veil.
“I’m getting stung in the neck, on the side of the face, and the worst part is: I can hear more in there, and I can hear them buzzing around my head, but of course I can’t see them. … That’s a mistake you only make once.” Every season brings around 25 stings, but, Suhre says, “My reaction to the sting is less and less … even in the same season.”
Business is booming at the Indian Hill Bee Company, which always sells out of honey. “We’ve got a pretty big fan base,” Suhre says. “People who love honey love honey.”
Suhre’s Favorite Things About Beekeeping
Solitude: It’s an opportunity to work by myself, with just the bees, outside and without distraction.
Nature: There’s nothing more amazing than learning, watching and nurturing the bees. Nature in its raw form is humbling and awe-inspiring.
Honey: Let’s not forget about the product of the bees’ hard work! Honey is rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients.
Helping Nature: Bees are prolific pollinators. For every pound of honey, bees visit 2 million flowers.
Working With Family: Mac and Jake help with the beekeeping; Joey fills honey jars, applies labels and packages the honey. Mary helps with social media and the website: IndianHillBeeCompany.com.