The luxury inn, spa and cottages may only now be under construction at Southall just outside of Franklin, but the agricultural and culinary operation behind it have been maturing for years.
Meanwhile, the 2.5 million bees in the Southall apiary are utilizing the property’s native flora to produce some phenomenal honey, and industry tastemakers are noticing. Southall’s wildflower honey has been named a finalist in the 2020 Good Food Awards, given by the national organization dedicated to the ethical production of clean, healthy food and arguably the top honor for beekeepers.
Jay Williams, who manages Southall’s apiary while educating and inspiring hundreds of others through Williams Honey Farm, attributes the success to the diversity of native plantings featured on the 325 acres at Southall — and the team’s dedication to continually adding more.
“We’re a little different in that we don’t harvest until July, so we capture the flavor profiles of a full season’s worth of nectars,” Williams said. “Our great spring weather delivered an incredible bloom — the black locust, tulip poplar and basswood all just exploded. And the team at Southall has planted thousands of native trees and shrubs, while maintaining plenty of wildflowers for the bees. It’s just a perfect scenario for making amazing honey.”
Bees are essential members of the farming team at Southall. Williams is in the process of implementing a comprehensive pollination plan on the property that will ultimately include about 4.5 million bees, including native species. The greenhouses at Southall are using native leafcutter bees to pollinate 365 days a year, and Williams is utilizing Bluetooth technology to monitor hive health. Below the apiary, nearly 2,000 apple trees live on a terraced hillside, and crop and fruit yields are increasing exponentially each year as a result of the pollinators.
Williams became fascinated with the craft of growing honeybees as pollinators upon learning of their plight years ago. He loves making honey, and he delights in the opportunity to inspire people to learn more about the way bees from other parts of the world interact with Middle Tennessee’s native species to coax the best harvest out of the growing seasons. At Southall, the honeybees are of Russian and Italian descent.
“Bees are the hardest-working beings out there,” Williams said. “And they’re working so hard not for their own benefit, for the good of the family. There are so many life lessons to be learned from a bee colony.”
As it relates to the honey, timing is everything. Traditionally, he harvests only on July 5, as the varietal nectars captured throughout the growing season contribute to a robust flavor profile. Williams is also being careful not to rob the hive of much-needed honey to survive.
Southall honey hits the tongue with a slight sweetness, followed by a fruity middle and a super sweet finish thanks to the late basswood nectar. Williams said he could harvest every few weeks — each of the colonies is making 30 to 60 pounds of honey in a season — and capture a well-defined clover flavor, but beyond the notable complexity in taste, the risk is that storms or other factors could leave the bees starving for honey to feed on later. The July harvest allows them to wind down while building plenty of stock to get through the long winter.
Southall, set to open in early 2021,was conceived four years ago as a biodynamic working farm focused on agricultural innovation and sustainable, responsible and productive use of the land. Today, visionary chef and farmer Tyler Brown oversees a culinary and agricultural team dedicated to his lifelong dream of marrying agriculture, hospitality and cuisine into a unique and memorable experience.
“What we’re creating here brings together everything we love about Middle Tennessee’s agricultural heritage, our culture, curiosity and the luxury of simplicity,” Brown said. “It’s about discovery, nurturing the mind, revitalizing the body, feeding the soul. Our apiary is in so many ways reflective of that spirit, and Jay Williams represents the level of talent we’ve assembled to bring it all to life. It’s been a journey, one that will never end, but it is very rewarding to have our honey recognized by our respected peers.”
The Good Food Foundation is committed to fostering land stewardship and cultivating social good. From a blind tasting of 2,035 entries, 324 outstanding food and drink crafters rose to the top, after passing a rigorous vetting to confirm they meet Good Food Awards standards regarding supply chain transparency and environmentally sound agricultural practices.
Of the 16 finalists in the honey category from states ranging from Hawaii to Massachusetts, Southall’s wildflower honey was the only finalist from Tennessee.
Winners will be announced Friday, Jan. at a 1,000-person gala in the historic San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center, followed by two days of celebration including the Good Food Awards Marketplace. For more information, visit www.goodfoodfdn.org.
Southall is releasing 100 four-ounce jars of the honey, which can be ordered online at www.southallfarms.com/southall-honey and picked up from the Southall Farm Stand between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, or Wednesday, Dec. 18.
Other holiday goodies available on those days from the farm, located at 1995 Carters Creek Pike in Franklin, include fresh eggs, hydroponic lettuces, the popular Rambling salad dressing, Southall habanada pepper hot sauce, heirloom seeds, greenhouse succulents, gardening tools and branded merchandise.