North Shelby County resident Claude Blackwood says it started out as a hobby. Find a swarm of bees. Make some honey.
What it's led to is an unofficial study into human nature and issues of trust and integrity. Blackwood says it's made him and his customers richer for the experience.
He still believes in the honor system when it comes to dealing with customers seeking to purchase his popular jars of honey. His product has benefited from such word of mouth sales that it's even being enjoyed in other countries.
The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes is credited with spinning the tale of a man who armed with a lantern roamed the countryside in a fruitless search to find an honest man. It's too bad that nomad apparently wasn't in possession of a map, because if such a handy direction finder had been at his disposal it might have led him to the deep woods of north Shelby County, where for more than a decade, Blackwood has offered off the beaten path visitors the sweetest of rewards asking only for honesty in return.
"I got a swarm of bees and put in a hive. Then they swarmed and then I catch that swarm and get another hive and on and on," he said. "First thing you know, I start making a lot of honey. It's local honey made from all the flowers here in the forest and all the trees. There's such a variety that it's just a real sweet-flavored honey and all the local people like it real well."
Word of Blackwood's delicious bottled honey has spread far beyond anywhere its humble maker could have imagined. Satisfied customers can be found in such climes as California, Nevada and to the eastern Arabian oil-rich peninsula of Qatar.
Even some Arab friends they live here in Memphis and they ship it back to Qatar," he said. "Honey is real expensive there. There's not many flowers. I think they said no bees at all. It's hard to keep bees now. So many diseases and they die off and just disappear. There's no money making to it. But, it's fun."
With the honeybox sitting in the driveway of his son's home, Blackwood has only to walk across the street to replenish his stock and collect his profit from a straw basket.
"Put it under that little block. Lot of people know about the little block of wood," Blackwood said. "Put it under there, so it won't blow away and there it is."
Yet, while many people are familiar with the particulars of how the honeybox honor system operates, Blackwood says, over the years, he's only confronted one man about an allegation of thievery. Otherwise, everything's been humming along.
"It seems that if you trust them, I just don't have any trouble with it at all," he said. "It's a little bit amazing. You hear about all the crime and bad stuff and thievery and all that. But, it's not that way here."
If it only takes a jar of honey to inspire honesty. It's too bad there aren't more people born with a sweet tooth.
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