Bee Biz a Sweet Deal for Mivilles
Articles: Sarasota History
Beginning in 1939, the Sun Fed Honey Company provided a wide variety of marmalades and jellies to local and international customers.
East of the South Tamiami Trail, off Clark Road, Shagri-La Groves were owned and operated by A.J. "Pat" and Betty Miville. Originally from Canada, Pat Miville arrived in Sarasota County in the late 1930s. He and his father had been in the export business in New York, exporting honey and jam products.
Pat and Betty Miville settled in the Bee Ridge area because they liked the name, which, it turned out, came from early settlers' hunting wild honey in the area. The Mivilles began in a small wooden building that was used originally for honey-packing, but later had a concrete addition. In an interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in June 1959, Pat Miville stated that "he has always been up to his elbows in honey, like his father before him. He came from Canada, bringing thousands of bees with him, and he says jokingly, that business has been so bad at times that he had to go out hunting rabbits in order to eat."
Throughout the 1950s, Sun Fed Honey did not advertise its product. Locals throughout the county purchases the honey and the company's mail order business was huge. Word-of-mouth among customers brought additional orders, including some from the White House and the British Royal Court.
Although Sun Fed Honey had thousands of bees at its Bee Ridge site, Miville also had bees at Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the Wewahitacka area in north Florida. Miville stated that the honey was purer from these sites because there was no depleted soil and no fertilizers used. "We keep the vitamins and enzymes in our product," says Miville in a Sarasota Herald Tribune interview in March 1957, "no cooking or treating artificially. In the swamps, one billion bees are placed so that they come in contact with just the kind of flowers we wish. Palmetto and gallberry are favorites." The honey combs were collected from these hives and shipped to Bee Ridge for cutting and placing into jars.
Although their main concern was the honey business, the Mivilles also wanted to educate the public on the intricacies and work that goes into the production and care of a beehive. They had been showing the public a small observation hive and it proved to be very successful. In 1955, the Mivilles came up with the idea of a traveling "City of Bees" that would show the entire process making honey.
After dozen of experiments, they came up with a "Chest of Drawers Hive." This hive consisted of three deep drawers and four shallow drawers. Two of these drawers house the foundation, two others the ripened comb, one has the nectar, another the queen and brood box, and the last one, the water tank and graveyard. After spending an estimated $1,000 on the hive, it was shipped to New York where it was on display at Macy's Department Store. The exhibit later traveled around Florida and was often on display in Sarasota.
Sun Fed Honey was never a high volume business. During the 1950s and 1960s, the company did supply supermarket chains in Southwest Florida. It also once supplied Macy's and Bloomingdale's department stores in New York. However, by the early 1970s. Sun Fed Honey was primarily a small mail-order business. Pat Miville continued to produce honey and jams until his death in 1973.