White House beekeeper sweetens Howard County Fair

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

A high-profile beekeeper stole the show Thursday morning at the Howard County Fair.

White House beekeeper Charlie Brandts demonstrated a honey extraction, even giving attendees a taste of the sweet treat.

During his presentation, Brandts, who has served as the White House beekeeper since 2009 and under two presidents, demonstrated how to carve the layer of beeswax off the honeycomb frame and then put the frame in an extractor, which churns out honey.

Brandts' niece Emily Brandts, 9, took her first turn hand churning the extractor during the demonstration. Despite being nervous to help with a honey extraction for the first time in front of a crowd, Emily said the process was fun. She said she wants to be a beekeeper someday.

Attendees had the chance to try honey straight off the comb, eating the sweet treat by the spoonful. Honey in this form has never been exposed to air, Brandts said, making it the most pure and flavorful form of honey, his personal favorite.

Brandts has been keeping beehives since 2007. He first started the practice as a way to improve his health and eat more locally made, all-natural food, while at the same time saving money by producing the honey himself.

Brandts said he enjoys the challenge of beekeeping, particularly because nectar flow is lower in Maryland, making it difficult to produce large amounts of quality honey. He said he also enjoys the people he meets through beekeeping and through demonstrations such as the one he offered at the fair.

"[I love] introducing more people to the joy of beekeeping," Brandts said.

Brandts has approximately 100 hives that can produce 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of honey a year. A Montgomery County resident, Brandts joined the Howard County Beekeepers Association as he was learning the practice, and keeps many of his hives on Gorman Farm in Laurel.

The job of White House beekeeper came up five years ago during the Obama administration, when Brandts was working as a carpenter at the White House, a position he held for more than 25 years.

Brandts shared some of his first crop of honey with White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, who then told White House chef Sam Kass about Brandts. At the time Kass was coordinator of Michelle Obama's Food Initiative, and working with the First Lady to create a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. He asked Brandts if he would manage a beehive in the garden. Brandts agreed, and has been the White House beekeeper ever since.

While still working as a carpenter at the White House, Brandts managed the hives in his spare time, and since retiring from his full-time position in 2012, he continues to visit the hives a few times a month to care for them. The White House property has one hive on it, and he said it can typically produce around 200 pounds of honey a year.

The hives are located on the south grounds of the White House, and were "about 40 feet from Mrs. Obama's kitchen window," Brandts said. He said the First Lady enjoyed the honey "immensely," eating it regularly and often giving White House honey as gifts.

One of Brandts' favorite memories from serving as White House beekeeper was when former First Lady Nancy Reagan came for lunch with Michelle Obama, and the two enjoyed "Charlie's Honey Mustard Vinaigrette" salad dressing. He still has a menu card from that lunch, with a note from Obama that says, "thanks for making our life a little sweeter."

During Thursday's demonstration, Brandts patiently answered questions about beekeeping, explaining everything from how to lay the hive frames "like pages in a book" inside the beehive box, to how people can responsibly start their own beehives.

As for his Brandts' honey eating habits, he gets his own "daily dose of honey" in his oatmeal every morning, but recommends people enjoy honey "any way you like it."

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