When The Hartford laid off Naomi Rothe in 2010, after 25 years, she turned to bees.
But this is not a local-woman-uses- setback-to-achieve-her-dream story. First of all, being a beekeeper -- or even, more broadly, being a farmer -- was not something Rothe had fantasized about for years.
Rothe and her husband moved into a beautiful old house on 14 acres in Windsor seven years ago, but it was her husband, who grew up on a tobacco farm, who wanted a back-to-the-land life.
"I didn't really know what I was getting into," Rothe said. "It was really my husband's vision, and I got sucked into it."
In the first year of growing vegetables and tending two beehives, they didn't try to sell any of what they produced.
Then, in 2011, they started selling the vegetables. In the first year, they made $3,500.
"We're probably the worst business as far as making money goes," Rothe said.
Last year, they sold $7,000 worth of products, and Rothe estimated that three-quarters of that was from the sale of honey, with the second-biggest income stream from homemade jams. They now have 17 beehives, which look like stacks of drawers.
From April to October, Rothe and her husband spend three hours a night taking care of vegetable beds with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants and peppers. "Our weekends are consumed with it," she said.
This winter, they worked many hours building an enormous-yet-unfinished barn out back. It will house the heavy equipment they bought to clear the land at Forgotten Acres, which was heavily wooded. There are piles of large-diameter logs in many places on their property even now.
"My husband has this disease: If you're going to do something, do it big," she said. "I have to rein him in a lot and keep him focused."
The honey and beeswax production is a much better hours-invested-to-sales ratio, but they don't produce on a large enough scale to meet all the honey requests from wholesale customers like restaurants, breweries, bakeries and grocery stores.
"We try to keep it contained to just supplying our local people," Rothe said. "I just love being part of the community." She said that when she shops at Geissler's supermarket, people will come up to her and say, "Oh, you're the honey lady."
At the opening day of the Windsor Farmers Market in late June, Rothe was playing that role, with a demonstration hive that captivated young children, and her explanation of why commercial honey is heated (it helps with shelf life).
The honey was selling so well that she texted her husband to bring more.
Laura Jary of Windsor bought a pound of honey for $7 from Forgotten Acres farm for the first time after she heard that local bakery Get Baked uses honey from its hives.
"Local honey is better for someone that has an allergy problem," Jary said.
That's a homeopathic theory. Doctors writing at WebMD say it's a myth that eating local honey builds up immunity to pollen allergies.
While eating honey might not be therapeutic, harvesting it from hives has been for Rothe.
She was petrified the first time she went to pick up the bees that had been shipped from Georgia and had to drive home with them alone. She said she was raised by a mother who was quite fearful.
"I still wear a full suit," Rothe said of a beekeeper's outfit, but she is no longer fearful as she pumps smoke into the hives with a small bellow, preparing to pour sugar water in to feed the thousands of bees inside. She said there are 80,000 bees flying around when she shakes them out of the box into the hive.
It took her two years to get over her fear, she said. Now, she said with a laugh, she thinks, "I can do anything."
She said farming has been all about "pushing forward when you don't think you can do it."
A year ago, Rothe was rehired at The Hartford as a business consultant. Her old department was still outsourced overseas, but another department wanted her. Now the farming and beekeeping is her part-time second job.
She said she was a little sorry that she couldn't start working on goat milk products, as had been her plan, but she said she told herself: "I have to be an adult, stop playing around."
She added, "What we decided [is] it's something we eventually want to throw more time into it when we retire."