NORTHWEST BEE-CENTRIC RAW HONEY
“The taste of honey on the tongue is a lightness, a quickening, a deep emanation of the sun’s light as all of creation bears witness and answers. One’s heart is warmed.” ~ a message from the bees in The Song Of Increase by Jacqueline Freeman
“Bee-centric” is a phrase we’ve borrowed from people who are keeping bees in a non-conventional way that aims to support the colony’s well-being and respects its evolutionary past as wild, swarming pollinators of growing things. It’s also known as “natural beekeeping”. These keepers tend to be hobbyists and small scale farmers who offer their limited harvests with generosity and a true love of the plants and pollinators. We are proud to say that one hundred percent of our raw honey is sourced directly from local bee-centric keepers. We pay a high premium for this very limited type of honey but feel so much better about doing it! Here is some info about the types of honey you’ll find in a grocery store. Bee-centric raw honey is something you will rarely find these days, even at a farmer’s market. By purchasing a Cobb’s peanut butter, sunbutter or walnut crunch cup, you’re providing a rich, diverse, healthy habitat for about ten female worker bees, as well as the vitality of their hive and local ecosystem!
Did you know that honey is the only raw, naturally occurring sweetener that we consume? Even the best quality unrefined maple syrup, coconut nectar and cane juice are all boiled and reduced in order to evaporate water and reach the level of sweetness we like. Even raw agave, like brown rice syrup, requires the addition of enzymes in order to create sugars. Prior to the development of industrial agriculture, honey was considered precious, something gifted to a friend or used to sweeten a bitter medicine. How honey is created is truly a miracle. Once a female worker bee collects raw nectar (the female reproductive juices of a flower) it is transformed in her “honey stomach” by mixing with the “bee enzyme” invertase. The nectar’s sucrose, which is originally a disaccharide (two sugar molecules bonded together) converts into dextrose (glucose) and levulose (fructose), two monossacharides (basic sugars). These monossacharides happen to be easier for humans to digest than their bonded counterparts that you’ll find in other sweeteners. They also happen to be in a natural balance with each other, unlike many other sweeteners we like that contain a much higher level of fructose (easier on blood sugar) than glucose (easier on your liver). This liquid gold, once used as a preservative, is the only food we know of that can last thousands of years in its raw state without losing any of its nutritional content. No wonder ancients revered the symbol of the honey bee!
Most of the food crops we eat depend on pollinators. While our current staple crops such as corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and sorghum are wind-pollinating, most of the other plants we eat rely on bees. The honey bee is by far our primary pollinator. Common fruits that require pollinators include the apple, mango, avocado, apricot, cherry, plum, peach, pear, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, kiwi, citrus fruit, most melons, and even cacao and coffee. Common nuts requiring honey bees include the almond, macadamia and cashew. And the aforementioned is certainly not an extensive list. Many veggies can technically reproduce by either hand pollination or if planted by seed, but pollinators are, at the least, essential to maintain healthy seed sets. And if/when pollinators aren’t used, these unlisted crops require more manual labor and will naturally become more homogenized. When it comes to the process of commercial pollination – something we now rely on in our industrialized food system – two things that work hand-in-hand to the detriment of our ecosystem are the continual transportation of bees for pollination and the short-sighted reliance on monocultures, a type of farming in which vast distances of soil are growing one single non-rotating crop. These serve as “food deserts” to all surrounding life, including ground-dwelling microorganisms and pollinators. As all life naturally thrives with diversity, these monocultures are much more prone to disease. Hence the dependence on toxic chemicals and, recently, the GMO crops that are designed to withstand them. This is of course a purely human-centric way to grow food, as we are the only ones who appear to benefit, and only in the short term. All sorts of insect populations, including the honey bee, have suffered drastic diseases in the last couple decades, primarily because they have been exploited and not provided a healthy habitat. What can we do to help? Avoiding commercial honey is certainly one step. Supporting bee-centric beekeepers and spreading this information is another. If you don’t eat honey for ethical reasons, know that quitting almond milk is likely a more effective action. But most importantly – eat as much organic, local, seasonal produce as you can. It tastes the best anyway!
Cheap commercial honey, which is often imported and sold in the big groceries is often diluted with high-fructose corn syrup and other cheap sweeteners. Typical “100% pure honey”, while not diluted, is full of toxic pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics. And it’s been heated, homogenized, and ultra-filtered so that little soul and “nutrients” of this beloved bee food remains. Raw honey, which has gained much commercial popularity recently, hasn’t been heated or filtered and is said to contain 22 amino acids, 27 minerals, a spectrum of vitamins and thousands of enzymes. However, commercial raw honey is economically profitable only if bees are being continually transported cross-country to pollinate seasonal crops – something that depends on reliably “healthy” hives, which unfortunately gets keepers into the business of annually replacing queens with purchased artificially inseminated ones, as well as treating bees with antibiotics and miticides if a colony gets sick. Also, in order to maximize profits, bees will be fed corn or sugar syrup instead of their usual honey through the winter. Refined sugar syrup from distant lands is a very different diet than pure pollen-rich fermented nectar that’s tuned to the bee’s local ecology. The best raw honey that you’ll find in stores is from farms that only treat their bees when sick (as opposed to preventative methods) and only use organic sugar when required. The bees are still being driven around on big trucks, pollinating distant sprayed crops, and will never experience the joy of a swarm or a winter of quality homemade food.
For more information about bee-centric beekeeping, we suggest googling the term. There are plenty of wonderful films to check out, such as Queen of the Sun and More Than Honey. Marla Spivak did a great job explaining things in an easy 16-minute 2013 TED talk, here. We’re all so interdependent!