I am not the biggest bee keeper. I do not like to artificially force my bees to create more honey than what is naturally in their ability. My goal is to provide the highest quality of honey first and foremost for my family. What I have left over I like to share with my community.
My story starts in 1938 in a smallest village at the edge of Europe. That is the time when my grandfather followed in his father’s footsteps and started raising bees. He had over 20 hives in the most rural part of the country where the land was uncontaminated and the environment was as pure as it gets. At that time, we weren’t exposed to terms like “organic,” “cruelty free,” “naturally grown” or “environmentally conscious”. Those terms were intrinsic in the practices of my grandfather.
He was an all around farmer. He kept bees, raised cattle, had a large fruit orchard and vast lands where he planted potatoes and other vegetables. He worked hard to provide the best and the purest for his family.
Every year, our truly free range cattle would travel from winter pasture to the summer pasture in the high mountains that was untouched by humans. He would build himself a small tent from the branches and live there with the cattle 4 months out of the year. I remember accompanying him to the mountains for most of my childhood. My best memories are from the time with my grandfather learning how to live in harmony with nature. (This practice of moving between summer and winter pastures called transhumance has been part of our culture in Europe since 3000 BCE.)
My Grandfather’s Bees
My grandfather inherited raising bees from his father who started his practice in the 1800s. Having comb honey on our breakfast table was an unbroken tradition ever since.
I remember watching him look after his hives as if they were the most valuable thing in our house. But the truth is he didn’t believe himself to be the owner of his hives. In fact, he always thought that he had a relationship of harmony between his bees and himself. A relationship to which he contributed in the most honest and responsible way and which bore the sweetest outcome.
His relationship with his bees was simple. Provide the best environment that imitated their own in nature, without any human interference and in turn they will reward him with their honey.
Organic Is Not Always the Full Story
For years my family and I was fortunate enough to eat the purest crop possible cultivated by my grandfather.
Things changed when he passed away and we moved to the United States. My family and I became frustrated when we tasted products that were on the shelves of the grocery stores. The taste felt different from what we were used to for years. We couldn’t put our finger on what was the particular difference. Eventually, we became familiar with the terms “organic” and “natural” and we started checking labels obsessively. My husband and I were adamant to find the healthiest and purest product for our family. But nothing on the market felt good or healthy enough to feed my family, even the ones labeled “natural” and “organic.”
So, I started researching. I found that for many grocery stores it wasn’t about how tasty, nutritious or safe the product is for the consumer. No, it was all about how good it looks and how long it stays on the shelf. Focus on the apperance of the product meant that any produce that doesn’t meet the high aesthetic standards would end up in a dumpster. This means a huge loss for the average farmer and is truly detrimental for the small farmer.
As a result even the organic farmers are forced to be conscious about the looks and the shelf life of their crop in order to sell to any grocery store. To this day, in order to stay in business many farmers continue campaigning the federal and state governments to ease the standards and regulations on their products. Thats why even the produce that is labeled organic or natural are either contaminated by synthetic substances to extend the shelf life or somehow altered to meet the aesthetic standards of grocery stores.
In 2010-2011 study by USDA more than 40 percent of products labeled organic contained pesticides.
Organic vs Traditional
Looking at history of American food production and labeling its not difficult to see how we have moved away from natural food production to commercial farming. Big companies that produce thousands of pounds of food per year have pushed away small local farmers who try to cling to natural, non-chemical farming. But the farmers who like to work with nature, who are environmentally aware and value purity have suffered from growing pains and resistance from the corporate world.
Who is paying the Certifier?
One thing to pay attention to when you are purchasing an organic product is how the product is certified and what that certification means?
- In order to be certified organic a farmer needs to have a minimum of $5000 profit from the crop. The path to having at least $5000 profit is not always the most natural or pure.
- Large farmers are the ones paying to be certified. In 2014 Wall Street Journal found that nearly half of the certifiers failed to upload at least one standard.
- In the United States alone, each state determines what it means to be “organic” based on the economy, production practices and constraints in that state. In 2002 the National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Non-Synthetic Substances were introduced in order to be used in organic food production.
- Ethanol, alcohols and EPA are few of the many synthetic substances allowed by USDA in organic crop production. (You can look at the list of synthetic and non synthetic substances allowed by USDA.)
My Bees and I
You know what they say, when you want something done right, do it yourself. I decided to follow my grandfather’s footsteps and build my own hives in the beautiful Humboldt County.
I tolerate no GMO, pesticides or altering the soil and vegetation surrounding my hives.
Here are the qualities I focus on when raising my bees and enjoying their honey.
Being unaltered in any way
Being fully nutritious
Free of any outside synthetic or un-synthetic substances including use of plastic and organic pesticides
Being healthy and safe for our children
I currently have 10 hives that produce honey for my family and whatever I have left over I like to share with my community.
Bees are one of the oldest pollinators and have evolved perfectly in their natural form. That’s why minimal interference is extremely important if we want to benefit from the pure and truly organic honey.