Bayou Profile | Carmichael’s Honey
article by Vanelis Rivera
photography by Kelly Moore Clark
When Marcela Carmichael’s husband, Nathan Carmichael, started Carmichael’s Honey LLC in 2013, she was still working as a registered nurse. On occasion, she would contribute to the company, doing “a few things on the side,” but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that she decided to switch over and get fully involved. “My hands are in everything,” she says, from conducting interviews, hiring new employees, and running the company’s social media and marketing strategies. Though she leaves sales to her husband, her role as owner and operator of such an in-demand product is one that keeps the relationships they build keep extending beyond business.
Honey was never in Marcela’s purview. In fact, neither was living in Lafayette. Raised in Monroe by her adoptive family, she went to school at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM), graduating there with a degree in nursing. “It took me a whole, full seven years to get my life together, but I did and I’m very thankful for the ULM community,” she enthuses. After graduating, she was ready to “hit the road,” and accepted a job at Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center. She immediately was taken by the starkly different culture of South Louisiana. It may have taken her a while to get used to the accent, but once she settled in, it quickly started to feel like home, especially when she met her husband.
“So Nathan grew up as a little beekeeper,” says Marcela. By the time he was five years old, his father had bought him a child-sized bee suit and began to carry him into bee yard locations. At eight, Nathan bought his first beehive from his dad, keeping hives on and off throughout his life. Nevertheless, by the time Marcela met her to be husband, he was working as a salesman for an oil company. “But he wanted to be his own boss,” she says, adding, “He knew that he didn’t want to sit behind a desk. My husband’s very high energy. He knew that he wanted to do something that would impact the lives of other people. He’s very passionate about everything that he does.” One of his goals was to have a brand for raw, unfiltered honey. Already having the expertise, the business acumen, and the passion for the product, it just made sense: “He’s a salesman by nature. He’s very good at what he does, he’s very savvy, and he can sell anything. He can sell a pencil!” At the time, he only had twenty-five hives and was still working full-time. “I think our first label, I made the label out of address stickers,” says Marcela, who recalls riding along with Nathan on sales calls, taking their makeshift bottles to various independent grocers in their area. “By the grace of God, in our second year, we began to garner the attention of larger retailers in our area. We quickly rose to the occasion to meet the demand with excellent service and quality,” says Nathan.
Carmichael’s Honey LLC was officially established on July 2013, a month before the couple got married. The company’s first year was slow, but by the following year, they had begun to gain the attention of larger retailers in their area. The rapid growth led to another shift in the business. The Carmichaels transitioned to sourcing honey from regional beekeepers. Currently, their conventional honey comes from all parts of the United States. They have two bottles of honey from Louisiana and Texas. And their organic honey comes from the dense forests of Minas Gerais, a state in Southeastern Brazil, and Marcela’s homeland. Recently, she found out that one of the biggest exporters of honey in Brazil, Melbras, is an hour away from her birth mother’s house. She had already been planning a trip to visit her family in April, so now she also gets to visit another potential business partner. A perk for the company, Marcela is fluent in Portuguese! “That’s another way that we’re closing the gap, to create more of a relationship instead of being something from a distance,” she says.
But why Brazil? In the United States, for a product to be labeled “USDA Organic” it must adhere to a few specific guidelines. One such requirement is meeting land standards, which requires hives to be placed in a forage zone that is certified organic (land free of major sources of contamination). Not only is this difficult for many beekeepers to accomplish, but bees are almost impossible to regulate, as they happily forage wherever they desire. This could mean buzzing beyond zones designated organic. In places with ample acreage, like Brazil, this becomes less complicated. As the USDA recognizes organic labeled products from other countries, Brazil has swiftly become a notable exporter of organic honey. Additionally, the Carmichaels test their sourced honey for contaminants before they pack it.
The process of bottling honey begins with loads of raw honey. Each barrel of honey is coded based on the region of the country it originated. And from the moment it arrives at the Carmichael facility, each code is recorded into a computer system, which will later be printed in the bottles, so that even customers can track the region and beekeeper whose honey they are enjoying. “Our honey is raw and unfiltered,” says Marcela, which means that their product is derived straight from hives. While they strain the raw product in order to remove naturally occurring particulates, which can be beeswax, bees’ wings, and even a bee or two, their straining system leaves all of the pollens and enzymes naturally occurring in the honey untouched. The bottling process begins from there. At times, the honey process also includes returning honey to its liquid form. “The honey sometimes comes to us crystallized,” informs Marcela, who wants the public to know that it is completely natural for raw honey to crystallize. “People think that crystallized honey is bad,” says Marcela, but honey contains properties that help it last for a very long time. If your honey ever crystallizes, the Carmichaels have a simple solution: “Put warm water in a pot and place it on the stove until the water is hot (don’t heat it too hot or this could become dangerous.) After the water is significantly hot take the pot off of the stove and place it in a sink and set your bottle of crystallized honey in the pot of hot water Pretty soon you’ll notice the honey beginning to re-liquify. You may have to repeat this scenario more than once to fully re-liquify the entire bottle of honey.”
One of the most important aspects of the company is its outreach. “We want to serve the community,” emphasizes Marcela. Not only does Carmichael support Breast Cancer Awareness, but they provide opportunities to those in the process of turning their life around. “My husband has a really great story of redemption,” she reveals. Some of the young men they have assisted now work for them, and she considers them part of the family. “I like to say that we are a very relational company,” she says, adding that the relationships they forge, be it with beekeepers, brokers, or employees, “goes beyond just the numbers and honey.”
The Carmichaels are not shy about their own personal transformations or their faith in God. On their company website, their mission is clearly stated: “Our goal is to provide our customers with a healthy product and to honor God in our business and outside of our business in our personal lives.” Their gratitude also extends to their community. As Marcela says, “Nobody does anything in life without people.” Along the way, they have had their community provide significant opportunities that helped grow their business, not to mention the help they constantly receive from their work team, and the support of friends and family. “Really, the village that we have around us has allowed us to raise this business.” Which is to say, Carmichael’s Honey is where fellowship meets really good honey.