Maureen Alfiero: Family Farming is the Bees’ Knees
When Maureen Alfiero picked up a beekeeper’s suit at a local tag sale, she thought it was an interesting find. What she didn’t know was it would spark a passion that would develop into a thriving family business at their Killingworth farm.
“When I came home with the beekeeper’s gear, my husband, Greg, and his grandfather looked at me like, ‘That’s weird.’ Then, we discovered the name of the former owner, inside the suit, and it was the same person that my husband’s great uncle had let keep his hives on our family property 20 years earlier,” she says. “It stirred an interest for us and so Greg started reading and studying up on beekeeping. It grew into a passion and it was the beginning of our business.”
The Alfieros purchased their first bee hive in 1993 and began harvesting honey at Down the Lane Farm, the Killingworth hay farm that has been in Greg’s family since 1890.
“First, we’ve always made sure that the bees have plenty of honey to feed themselves during the winter and then, when the hives were doing well, we started to harvest the extra honey and give it to family and friends. It was so popular that we started selling Down the Lane Farm honey at the gas station at the circle in Killingworth, and then at local stores. Everybody just loves Greg’s honey,” she says.
A few years ago, as their children had grown, Maureen found herself with more time on her hands. She harvested the beeswax from the hives and tried out a new craft: making natural candles and soaps.
“It was a lot of trial and error, lots of watching YouTube videos and asking people for advice. I gave my soaps and candles to friends, but in 2013, I thought, ‘Let’s see what I can do with this,” she says.
Maureen developed full ranges of her products including natural beeswax candles and scented wax melts, soaps of glycerin and olive oil, lip balms, and hand salves. Free of added chemicals, the beauty and skin products are made with essentials oils, pure fragrances and the all-important main ingredient: honey.
“Honey is good for you inside and out. It has so many good properties and it’s anti-bacterial, so it’s just fabulous for the skin,” Maureen says.
“The first year I set up a table under a tent at the farm and sold my products along with our honey. People really enjoyed them and came back to buy more. So, I decided that the next year, I’d open the Down the Lane Barn Shop.”
In 2014, the dream was a reality with the store open for business in the farm’s large storage barn.
“The big barn was dragged by oxen here around 1910 and when I came up with the idea for the store, it was still very much a dirty, dusty barn. My girlfriends and my family all came out to help and we scrapped and scrubbed and painted it up until we had the store we have today.”
Now, in its fourth year of operation, Maureen opens the store three days a week, from May until Christmas, if the weather’s not too frosty. Her shoppers range from local honey-loving neighbors to summer vacationers from out of state.
On Saturday, Nov. 18, Down the Lane is one of four Killingworth farms—the others are New England Alpacas, Bitta Blue Farm, and Lavendar Pond Farm—opening its doors for the inaugural Killingworth Fall Farm Tour.
“Melissa Ferrara [of New England Alpacas] had the great idea of opening our local farms on the tour. We’re all about starting conversations so we’re excited about this great opportunity to celebrate family farms and for people to visit local farms in Killingworth,” Maureen says.
“Teaching without teaching” is a philosophy of Down the Lane Farm. The farm store has posters about beekeeping and the life of bees on the walls, and there are bee facts scattered on the shelves and printed on the packaging of Down the Lane products.
“Most people are aware that bee populations are suffering and we want people to know that bees are important pollinators for our environment. The two greatest problems are pesticides and starvation,” Maureen says, adding that there are simple things everyone can do to support the survival of bees.
“Dandelions are often the first food source that bees look for when they emerge from the hive after a long winter, and wildflowers are also important to bees. We want people to be aware they must be careful spraying pesticides or avoid using them, so we can keep the dandelions and the wildflowers for the bees.”
This summer, the Down the Lane Barn Shop added an observation bee hive and Maureen says visitors enjoyed the opportunity to watch the honeybees at work and the challenge of finding the queen bee.
“Lots of grandparents bought their grandchildren back to see the hive and kids just loved it. It was a great way to tell the story of the bees,” she says.
Rather than leave a wall empty, Maureen stocks the store shelves with antiques and collectibles, and has also invited local artists and craftspeople to sell their wares at the Down the Lane Farm.
“I’ve got aprons sewn by a local woman, clothes made by local knitters, works by a local photographer, and maple syrup from a local farm in Westbrook,” she says. “Crafters are special people who make beautiful things from the heart. They sell their goods to be able to buy the next skein of yarn, to create the next work of art.”
While the Alfiero family has Killingworth roots traced back generations, Maureen grew up in Clinton and moved to Down the Lane with Greg as newlyweds to work the family farm and, later, raise their children, Joe and Annie. The farm life was a new and different adventure for Maureen who previously worked as an accountant, but she’s put her professional skills to good use, creating and managing the Down the Lane website as well as social media pages.
The next venture for the Down the Lane honey enterprise is raising their own local queen bees.
“Lots of beekeepers purchase their queen bees from down south, but these bees don’t know about a good, strong New England winter. We want to develop our bees here in the local environment so they are heartier to survive the cold months.”
Making the family farm a success over generations is not an easy task, Maureen acknowledges.
“It’s all in the heart—that’s where farming starts and that’s what it takes to stay on the family farm. Everything we sell here at the Down the Lane farm store, including the honey, all goes back into the bee yard,” she says.
“The Fall Farm Tour is a great chance for people to meet local farmers and see their produce, and it’s a great chance for us to talk about honey bees and show people what we do here at the farm. It builds an awareness of farming in our community and hopefully, people will want to support that.”
The first annual Killingworth Fall Farm Tour is on Saturday, Nov. 18 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The free event features local farm tours, demonstrations, and locally produced gifts. Participating farms are: Bitta Blue Farm, 228 River Road, with goat milk soap, lotions, bath accessories, jams, jellies, dried fruits, and late season vegetables; Down the Lane Farm, 18 Reservoir Road, with honey, soaps, skin care, and beeswax candles; Lavender Pond Farm, 318 Roast Meat Hill Road, with lavender, bath/body/home lavender products, and lavender-themed gifts; and New England Alpacas, 14 Bethke Road, with alpaca fleece and yarn products. Maps and postcards with all farm locations and free parking are available. No public restrooms or food vendors are available. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-663-3482.