By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
While working for a Birmingham non-profit Nonhlanla Mamkhize Jones noticed the organization had a beehive that no one knew what to do with. That was until a few months later someone was found to train her on beekeeping. “They didn’t purchase a beekeeping suit for me so I had to go into the beehive without one and I got stung several times,” said Jones.
She is now owner of Greenlite Apiary, which specializes in growing organic foods and harvesting pure honey and currently manager for Birmingham Central Market at the MAX transit station in downtown where she sells her natural organic foods on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12:30 to 5:30.
Her bee stings were an educational way to begin her business. This was the first time Jones harvested honey from beehives and she has since become well-versed since her start in 2012.
According to Jones there are several benefits to getting stung by bees. Bee venom has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and may benefit the health of your skin and immune system, she said. It may also improve certain medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain.
When it comes to harvesting honey Jones’s three children — boys ages 19,14 and 11 – will assist her. “My 11-year-old was working with me when he was three. A bee was crawling on his face and stung him. He was so hurt he thought bees were his friend (bees will become use to a person’s scent and face and land on you but will not sing you. However, this particular day her 11-year-old was stung.). That made him kind of slow down with helping me. He only goes [to harvest honey] when I really need him to,” said Jones.
With her pure honey Jones makes Kombucha Juices which provides a probiotic, and regulates a person’s gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), the passageway of the digestive system.
“It helps with your digestion, rids your body of toxins, and boosts your energy. If you don’t use the bathroom as much as you eat that will help you go. My honey makes it smoother and it taste better,” said Jones.
Kombucha Juices are also known to be great for skin. “They say when you drink it you have anti-aging affects. I’m 48 and I look good, “Jones laughed.
After completing the steps of harvesting beehive, Jones places the honey in glass jars that she buys for wholesale in bulks from a local manufacture. After the jars are sealed with a top Jones places her blue and yellow Greenlite Apiary logo on the front of every jar.
Jones, born and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa in a community called Danganye with her three siblings, originally began to grow her own food when her son was diagnosed with diabetes and she had weight gain. At this time she was living briefly in Birmingham before moving to Talladega. Although she grew food for her family, her close friends and neighbors began to purchase from her. Whether it was fruits or vegetables they would place orders in advance before she could full grow her products.
“My cabbage was so big and pretty people would buy them because they looked so good,” said Jones.
Word of mouth is what caused Jones to quickly build a clientele selling organic foods. “I grew up growing food. Anything we could grow to supplement food,” said Jones.
Her mother worked to earned money for their upkeep while her grandmother took care of the children and the house. Jones and her siblings were taught to grow everything they ate. For oils her grandmother would raise pigs.
“The pig was used to provide meat for our family. She (grandmother) believed that all the diseases came from highly processed and manufactured good. She used to joke about vegetable oil. She will say that she never seen a vegetable bleed oil. We used the fat from the pig to cook. She will cut the skin, cook it, and then we will eat the cooked skin. She cured the meat to last. She killed about two a year. She believed in eating local grown food because they are healthier.”
“Those pigs would have babies and she would have a few men to come help her slaughter them,” added Jones. After the pigs were slaughtered Jones said grandmother would get the fat out of them and use the oil to cook.
She and her family never experienced high blood pressure because they never purchased vegetable oil from the store. They would only use natural oils from the animals they raised, she said.
At age 26, Jones came to the United States in 2001 to attend Miles College in Fairfield, AL. She wanted to pursue her career in journalism as a news reporter. In South Africa, after graduating high school she was a part of a youth group that was training to be reporters.
“Instead of us going to college we would have professionals come to our facility and train us on news reporting and gave us certificates for completion,” said Jones.
During training she studied the newspaper and learned about creative writing, the layout and print. After receiving her certificate, Jones worked for three newspapers: UmAfrika, Izwe, and Inkanyezi and came across several opportunities.
“They would always ask for me resume and degree. I would always say I don’t have a degree I have a certificate” and she lost out on numerous jobs because she didn’t have a college degree.
“South Africa is big on education. If you’re going to be in a position that requires education then you have to have it,” she said.
In 2000 ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated went to South Africa to donate to Esizibeni High School. She had an opportunity to cover the story while and met one of the ladies and the two had a very strong connection. They decided to keep in touch when the lady returned to the United States.
“One day I became so frustrated because people reached out to me for coverage. They wanted my resume and education and I didn’t have the education. I explained I’ve been working as a reporter for 4 years. I have the experience.”
Jones called her friend who had returned back to the United States and confided in her.
“She said, ‘well come here go to school and I can help you get your degree,” said Jones.
Within six months Jones arrived in Fairfield, AL, enrolled into Miles College to pursue her degree in communications with a concentration in electronic media.
Asked what her college experience like she replied, “Oh my goodness everybody was so welcoming. The professors and students wanted to make sure I felt at home.”
When she arrived in Birmingham, Jones said she came here “a size eight and in six months I was a size 18.” Jones said she couldn’t figure out why and found a doctor who happened to be from Africa as well.
“Well you came from a place where you ate strictly organic foods. Now that you’ve come here eating food that is dead and your body doesn’t know what to do with that,” Jones was told.
That’s when she made the decision to go back to her African roots and after having children began to exercise to get her weight down. “I did a lot of walking. My son became a diabetic therefore we had to change our diet immediately,” she said.
“I wanted to go back to what kept me healthy as a child.”
Meanwhile at Miles Colleges she was assigned a mentor that was a senior.
Jones graduated Miles College in 2006 and obtained positions at local television stations.
Jones currently lives on 32 acres of land and a house on 10 acres that she’s leasing in Talladega, AL.
“I have over 75 chickens right now and two rams because I like lamb. I don’t like beef, I don’t like chicken from the store so I raise my own. I’ll be getting 10 ewes,” she said.
“I have about 100 blueberries bushes. I started planting them February last year and they are doing well.”
Jones said her land is filled with a lot of pine trees that she plans to have removed and replaced with fruit trees to grow apples, pears, and different flowers. She also plans to replace her grass with white clover. “White clover will be great for my bees,” said Jones.
Jones is giving herself three years to have 100 beehives on her farm since they are an endangered species. “We need them more than they need us,” she said. She would love to have some in Birmingham because “I have customers that wants honey produced within 60 miles from where they live,” she said.
“I remember going back to Africa to visit my family in 2018. There were bees and beehives in our front yard. They had been there for years but my grandmother knew I was afraid of bees she never let me know bees were there she just told me to stay away and I did,” said Jones.
Jones said she checks the beehives every ten days from spring to fall. “It is to make sure everything is going well and if there are any problems that I may need to jump in and assist the bees. For example, if they have a pest I need to help them by eliminating it in order for the bees to thrive,” said Jones.
You can visit Jones and shop natural organic foods on Mondays Wednesday and Fridays from 12:30 to 5:30 at the Birmingham Central Market in downtown Birmingham.