Spreading Honey in the Age of Bee Blight
When Berry Hines retired from the military in 1994, he was plagued with a host of medical conditions, including a floppy foot, slurred speech, reflux and a mini stroke. At that time, he and his wife Annie decided to eliminate processed foods, reduce sodium intake, and supplement their diet with honey.
“We have honey seven times a week, more than three times a day,” Hines says. He drizzles it over oatmeal, slathers it on toast and drops it into smoothies. He makes honey-peanut butter sandwiches, honey-mustard salad dressing and drinks honey buckwheat tea. “I use honey as a food and medication,” says the 58-year-old Hines. Under this new regimen, he says, his health has improved “1,000 percent.”
The Hineses are not only heavy consumers and advocates of the product but they also produce it. After his retirement, they took up beekeeping, a skill Berry Hines originally learned from his grandfather. Together their 22-year-old grandson, Gerron, they operate Bee Blessed Pure Honey in Princeville, North Carolina.
The family rents bee hives to local farmers and markets their raw, unfiltered honey through a community-supported agricultural program to farmers’ markets and at selected upscale retail outlets in nearby Raleigh. “More people,” he says, “are interested in what they’re putting in their mouth.”
Indeed, according to the National Honey Board, honey consumption per capita in the U.S. climbed to around 1.3 pounds per year in 2010 – up from 1.2 pounds the year before. Paraphrasing Rudolf Steiner, Mary Woltz, a beekeeper in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York, says that honey is to adults what milk is to children. Honey consumption is beneficial for allergy sufferers, she says, and easy to digest. “My mom attributed her good health and longevity to my honey,” she says. Pat Woltz, who passed away last fall at the age of 86, ate three heaping tablespoons of honey daily in her final years.
Alarmed by colony collapse disorder – Mary Woltz estimates that 30 percent of honeybees have died within the last three to four years – she opened her business, the Bees’ Needs, in part to determine if a small-scale beekeeper could become economically viable. “I couldn’t handle more than 100 colonies and still put the health of the bee first.”
So far, Woltz’s five-year-old enterprise has proven successful, but she worries that others may not be able, or willing, to devote so many hours to tending their hives. “If I’m working 12 to 14 hours, seven days a week, I can be profitable.”
Woltz treats her bees with kid gloves, allowing them to feed on their own honey (most commercial outfits feed bees sugar water or high fructose corn syrup); taking care that the farmers whose land they work do not spray while the bees are on property; and concentrating on building healthy immune systems in her hives. As a result, Woltz’s bees have been able to thrive.
Though there have been indications that colony collapse disorder is slowing, the syndrome bodes poorly for the future of food, as honey bees are needed to pollinate crops that produce an estimated one-third of our nation’s food. Experts maintain that chemicals pushed by big agribusiness – the longitudinal effects of which have not been investigated – could be at fault by working their way into pollen and nectar, ultimately causing colony collapse.
To make matters worse, in recent years, the safety of readily available honey in America’s supermarkets has been called into question. Last August, Food Safety News reported that “a third or more of all honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may have been laundered in other Asian countries before being shipped into the U.S.” At issue is the contamination of lead and antibiotics in Chinese-produced honey; often greedy brokers further compromise the product by mixing in sugar water and other sweeteners and thickeners.
What’s a vigilant consumer to do?
1. Buy your honey from a local beekeeper.
2. Ask him or her if the product is raw and unfiltered, meaning that it hasn’t been pasteurized or heated, which kills the honey’s beneficial enzymes.
3. If you can’t find a beekeeper, purchase it from a farmers’ market or bee club collective.
4. Avoid buying honey in big box stores and supermarkets – even ones that purport to specialize in organic products.
5. Finally, whenever possible, eat your honey raw. “I always eat it straight from the spoon,” says Mary Woltz.
To learn more about colony collapse disorder and the benefits of pure honey, go to your local library, and seek out the following resources:
A Spring Without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply
by Michael Schacker, (2008).
"Tainted Chinese Honey May Be on U.S. Store Shelves" form Time magazine.
Bio: Sustainability advocate and media consultant Wanda Urbanska is author or coauthor of nine books, including The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life (Krause: 2010). She directs the Jan Karski U.S. Centennial Campaign, www.jankarski.net.