On the Side | For Main Line bees, a sweet spot in Narberth

Posted: October 04, 2007

One morning last week, a new product was being touted on the chalkboard on the sidewalk in front of Le Petit Mitron, the anomalous patisserie francaise across from the R-5 SEPTA station in the borough of Narberth.

Henceforth, in addition to its celebrated croissants, its quiches and fresh-baked French pastries, it would be carrying the local honey of one Scott T. Bartow - "exclusivly."

The word had been slightly truncated, perhaps to fit as the chalk-writer ran out of room. But the message was clear, and an apparent paragon of the advertising arts: Within days, the entire stock had sold out - all 22 jars.

More was on the way, at least for now. The baker, Patrick Rurange, had indeed cut a deal to be the sole source of Bartow's raw (but well-strained) Main Line Wildflower Honey, this year's production of which tipped the scales at, well, 110 pounds.

Scott T. Bartow, 39, sounded like a serious young man when I reached him by phone. He'd worked with primates at the Philadelphia Zoo, had trained as an environmentalist, but he was a newcomer - albeit a thoroughly besotted one - to the world of beekeeping.

"Honeybees are responsible for $15 billion in the [agricultural] economy," he said, citing their profound impact on peach and pear crops and how, when properly pollinated, almond yields can jump by 40 percent. Then there are the legendary medicinal and antimicrobial benefits.

The way he'd met Rurange was that a friend had put him in touch when he was looking for a "sugar-based compound" to feed his upstart colonies of bees a few winters ago.

The sugar-based compound, it turns out, was the sweet fondant (icing as it is commonly known in Narberth) that Rurange slicks across the top of his eclairs.

But Rurange had his needs, too. One of his children suffered from seasonal allergies, and local honey, which contains bits of local pollen, he was convinced (though medical proof is elusive), acted like an allergy immunological injection, building resistance.

And so in a small town, in a small shop, a small deal was sealed for a small batch of honey from Bartow's Bees.

Its flavor is light and clean and subtly floral. It commands $4 a six-ounce jar. But its added value - at least from the perspective of Rurange and his wife Isabelle, was its nearby-ness: Honey imported from China, Canada or even the Dakotas may be fine as a sweetener, but it's not even anecdotally thought to be an anti-allergen. That particular property - even in the rosiest of folk scenarios - falters after about 10 miles out.

Bartow's hives are still behind the rental house in Belmont Hills (a rather hefty stone's throw from Narberth) where he lived for several years, cultivating gardens and some fruit trees.

But he was talking to me, he happened to mention, from New York City, where he was opening a new and presumably more remunerative chapter in the life of Scott T. Bartow; as a municipal bond trader for a hedge fund.

He has a lead on a farm north of Easton, Pa., where the hives might be welcome, although he's still hoping that he can keep them in Belmont Hills, and thus their claim to wildflowery, Main Line terroir.

The new tenants, though, don't seem overly enthused, he said.

"They're not big fans of bees."

Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.

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