The Urban Cowboy

In a growing South Tampa neighborhood, Marion Lambert lives the old-fashioned way

click to enlarge WHAT'S THE BUZZ? Marion Lambert with several boxes of his honeybees. - Max Linsky
Max Linsky
WHAT'S THE BUZZ? Marion Lambert with several boxes of his honeybees.

Unless you were looking for it, you probably wouldn't catch the little "honey" sign attached to the telephone pole at the corner of Second Street S. and Interbay Boulevard. You'd probably cruise right by it as you rushed towards Bayshore or MacDill, because that's what people do in a city - they rush places. Or, if they live in Tampa, they rush to sit in traffic.

But if you did somehow see that little sign, and followed its arrow to the right, you would hit Second Street's dead end, and a small white stand with jugs of honey.

Marion Lambert's honey.

Lambert, 57, has farmed a four-acre tract of land on Ballast Point for 30 years. At one time it was covered in tomatoes. He used to have 18 head of cattle, too. But since the late '70s, Lambert's been a bee man. And an urban anomaly.

"The world's grown up around us," Lambert says as he walks past a stack of rusted out honey barrels. "But we just continue to do our thing."

Lambert is skinny and leather-skinned, his voice gruff through a wad of Levi Garrett chewing tobacco. He moves fluidly around the farm, stepping around his old welding equipment as he leads a pony to his stall. The agrarian life, he says, is in his blood.

Lambert grew up in Pensacola, and kept chickens from the age of 10, selling eggs to his neighbors. From there he went to the University of West Florida, and was a step away from getting his masters is psychology when he abruptly quit. "I realized it wasn't worth it," he says.

He and his wife found the farm, which was then just a house with a big backyard, during a search for her runaway albino skunk, Berkley (they didn't find him). Lambert contacted the land's owner, and brokered a deal. He would farm the land, keeping it "greenbelted" and exempted from normal property taxes. And that's how it's stayed for 30 years.

Lambert makes his money off the honey, grows his own greens and has chickens to lay fresh eggs. He heats the water in his house by wood fire and does his business through trade when he can.

He doesn't go to movies. Doesn't own a TV. He avoids restaurants - "I'd rather eat out here by the campfire," he says.

He even barters at 7-Eleven, where he brews the morning pot of coffee in exchange for a free cup.

It's a different life, in a different world.

Block out the old pickups strewn around the farm and the Air Force jets flying overhead (Lambert's place is next door to MacDill AFB) and it could be 1865. Lambert, who is the Commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans' chapter, likes it that way. Chickens run around the yard, a cow grazes in a pasture, and seven goats roam the back of the property, chomping away on a Brazillian Pepper tree.

"A jackass is a compliment compared to calling someone a billy goat," he says as he feeds his flock. "They're just nasty."

But he needs them around. Not only do the goats keep down the Brazillian Pepper, which will grow rampant if left to its own devices, but they keep out the neighborhood kids, too. You need to take that kind of thing into account when you're farming in a city.

Lambert says his wife, Nancy, a nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital, doesn't work the farm. "She's high-fallutin," he laughs. But his daughter, 22-year-old Blue, grew up helping out and has an attachment to the place, and to the animals.

She named Lambert's cow "Cheeseburger," but that stays between her and the future burger. Dad's got a rule: "You don't name things you're gonna eat."

Lambert says he eats what produce and meat he needs, and gives away the rest. His honey, which comes in bakery grade (darker color, more moisture) and table grade (lighter color, more expensive), is the cash crop. If the market's right, he can make up to $45,000 a year selling barrels to health food stores and factories.

And there's the stand at Second Street's dead end.

Lambert leaves out the jugs and expects customers to slide their money through a slot, on the honor system. Pay what you got; take what you need. He's been ripped of a few times, but that's to be expected, he says.

He's farming in a city, remember.

Come here, Honey: 6101 Second St. S., off Interbay Boulevard between MacDill Avenue and Bayshore Boulevard. The honey, which goes for $10 a quart, comes in two varieties, Orange Blossom and Wildflower. Lambert claims the latter may help with allergies.

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