Though we only produce honey, Local Hive was founded to help fix an industry-wide problem. We aim to return food to its roots, where authentic, transparently produced foods are the norm, and buying food supports the people who grew it: in our case, beekeepers.
During a recent interview, Local Hive CEO Tony Landretti shared some of his experiences working with local beekeepers to help show what makes Local Hive’s approach so different and so critical.
“Old-school, face-to-face interaction is essential to beekeeping. It’s good for everyone, including the consumer. But over the last 40 years in the food industry, we’ve lost that to processing and manufacturing efficiency. We don’t look at where our food is coming from anymore. You lose a lot when you chase efficiency.
I was negotiating with a beekeeper one time. We talked, shook hands, and left – no contract. These beekeepers want to know who they’re doing business with, and to prove your credibility the old-fashioned way. They want to be able to trust you.”
But local honey isn’t just a matter of who beekeepers do business with. There are ripple effects in the towns where these beekeepers live and work, benefitting everyone around them:
“During the summer, beekeepers put their beehives out, often near small towns, and bring in workers to manage them. Suddenly, there’s a local economy in these towns with 300-something people. They’re going to 4H and grocery stores, buying cattle from auctions, you just don’t see that anymore. Historically, beekeepers would barter jugs of honey with cattle ranchers trading sides of beef. You can’t see that by looking at a bottle on the shelf, but that’s the kind of impact local honey makes.”
(Learn more about local honey’s impact at our American Beekeepers page.)
There are tangible differences with local honey, like flavor and color, but it also has a deeper significance: it shows us how we can work together with each other, with our land and with our pollinators. So, while we’re just one honey company, we recognize the power that honey has to connect us for the greater good. As Tony put it: “Right now, we all need that connection.”
In the late 2000s, you couldn’t throw a honey dipper without hitting someone proclaiming, “Save the bees!” This was during the height of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), when beekeepers would lose as many as 60% of their hives every winter. Millions and millions of worker bees would inexplicably call it quits, leaving their queen and her hive without enough food to survive the winter.
This put a tremendous strain on American beekeepers, but it also sent shockwaves through the worlds of agriculture and environmentalism. Suddenly, it became clear that we were at a real risk of losing honey bees for good. So, why were people so worried?
“Honey bees are kind of the canary in the coal mine.” – Julia McGuire, vice president of Iowa Farmers Union
Honey bees need floral diversity, nectar, pollen and water to survive, which means they do best in places where there are a variety of easily accessible plants growing. If they’re struggling to survive for even a single year, it’s a good sign that the soil, water, air and plant life are out of whack. Weak, nutrient-depleted soils require more pesticides to grow crops in, and they’re more susceptible to wildfires, droughts and floods. Nearly two decades ago, bees were warning us that our farmlands weren’t fit to live in – even for an insect.
Three out of four crops across the globe producing fruits or seeds for human use as food depend, at least in part, on pollinators. – Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.
There are many different ways to talk about the foods that bees produce, and they often get overblown. No, we would not be doomed to starvation if bees went extinct. But for us to provide a healthy diet for everyone on the planet, pollinators, especially honey bees, are essential. The dollar value of crops that rely on pollinators every year is in the hundreds of billions, and were they to disappear, farms and local economies would dwindle all around the world, especially in developing countries.
If you want the raw facts, head over to Wikipedia’s list of crop plants pollinated by bees. Then, click the “Pollinator impact” header. This shows you the crops that would all but disappear without honey bees: kiwi, watermelon, squash, and macadamia nut, to name a few.
But that’s just scratching the surface: bees are an “essential element in the production of meat and other animal products” according to the UK-based Api:Cultural. Bees pollinate the plants that become feed for cattle, sheep, poultry, pigs, and even commercially raised fish. So while bees don’t directly feed animals – except for the occasional bear – they are an important part of how we raise animals for human consumption.
So, exactly how much do we need bees?
It’s hard to say. But it’s even harder to imagine life without them. You can support bees and other pollinators by purchasing local honey made by American beekeepers, planting a pollinator garden, or donating to PACE: Pollinator Awareness through Conservation and Education, which conducts leading research on pollinators.
Nearly everyone eats honey: honey desserts, sopapillas honey flavored cereal, honey butter chicken biscuits, honey in little disposable packets – but almost no one thinks about how it’s made or where it’s from.
Local Hive Honey is here to fix that. Not just by offering more kinds of honey, but by changing how we think about food – all of it, not just the sweet stuff. Because, while bottling nearly two dozen honeys seems like a new idea, it’s actually a return to the old ways.
Every honey starts with a beekeeper and some bees.
While making honey is a form of agriculture, beekeepers are more like winemakers than corn farmers. They would never call their honey a commodity, because every harvest is unique. The soil, weather and climate all change the flavor in ways that anyone can notice – just like a bottle of wine.
For decades, mass-market honey companies have been filtering and homogenizing honey, ruining its natural flavors in the name of consistency and efficiency. The beekeeper has become an afterthought.
We think they deserve better, so we deal with beekeepers directly, one on one. They know what we stand for: exclusively buying U.S. honey and protecting its integrity with zero filtering or mistreatment. By putting in the extra effort to bottle pure, raw & unfiltered local honey, we’re giving beekeepers the ability to produce when and where they think is best: for their bees, their honey and their community.
Because honey doesn’t just help beekeepers.
As cities grow, more of our country becomes concrete, and beekeepers have to travel farther and farther out to find places to let their hives forage. In many cases, they settle near small, rural towns. They pollinate local crops. They bring in workers to help harvest and spend all summer there. One beekeeping crew in a 300-person town, going to grocery stores, contributing to the local 4H, buying cattle from auctions, can be huge economic boost.
This sounds like a small example – but it’s happening in every part of the country. Small, local economies are still a way of life for millions of Americans. And no matter how much we modernize and industrialize, there’s no replacing the people and places that make agriculture work.
“I was negotiating with a beekeeper one time. One handshake and we parted ways. No contract. He expected me to prove myself the old-fashioned way: by honoring my word.” – Local Hive CEO Tony Landretti
Over the last 40-odd years, we’ve lost trust in our food. By preserving the old school relationships with beekeepers, farmers and ranchers in every part of the food system, we can build back that trust. After all, it’s hard work to raise organic crops or grass-fed cattle or varietal honey, so those beekeepers and farmers have to trust that their effort will be worth it, that customers who appreciate quality food will seek it out.
As long as there are different communities, there will be different honeys.
Anyone can appreciate local honey’s flavor and color, but once you know how it’s made, you realize that it represents a community. Because here’s the thing: local honey could disappear any time. You simply can’t make it unless people trust each other. Farmers must rely on beekeepers, beekeepers rely on bottlers, retailers rely on customers, and customers rely on honey companies.
Right now, we could all use more of that connection. In a world that’s increasingly divided, labeled, organized and streamlined, we need to carve out and protect the old-fashioned things that have always brought us together, like trust – and local honey.
You might expect this blog to boil down to just a big “yes”, because honey is a nutrient-dense food that people have been eating – and treating maladies with – for millennia. But we’re not ones to settle for a “good enough” explanation. Because raw & unfiltered local honey can be a healthy part of any diet – for adults and children older than 1 – but the way it benefits your body is too interesting just to leave at “Honey is good for you. End of story.”
It all starts with your brain.
Dr. Ron Fessenden’s book Feed Your Brain First makes the case that the way most people think about food is all wrong. While, yes, many of us have some vague goal to eat healthy, cut carbs, or count calories, we rarely think of the effect food has on our body – except possibly our weight, if even that.
But our food affects us in countless ways. Probably the most underappreciated is how it fuels our brain.
In Dr. Fessenden’ view, the foods we eat and when we eat them directly affect our brain through liver glycogen, the brain’s primary energy source. When we eat, our bodies create glycogen. When we skip meals, fast or eat foods with no nutritional value, our bodies run out of it. And if it’s ever starved for fuel, the brain will take action to ensure survival, triggering any number of hormones and signals which can cause metabolic stress on the body.
So, where does honey come in?
Raw & unfiltered local honey is one of the best possible sources of energy for your brain. With its mixture of fructose and glucose, your body is able to quickly and easily process it into liver glycogen, getting your brain back into its normal, non-starved state ASAP. Taken a bit at a time, honey is perfect to add to recipes, drinks and snacks to keep you in good metabolic shape throughout the day.
As you probably (hopefully) know, you can’t just eat a salad and drop ten pounds the next day. An apple a daykeeps the doctor away, after all. You only see the benefit you ultimately want from health foods – whether that’s weight loss, reducing inflammation, stabilizing blood sugar, etc. – after making sure your brain is fed, day after day, and preventing metabolic stress.
Think of “metabolic stress” as a catch-all term for a number of different body processes, not as a medical diagnosis. It contributes to all kinds of conditions, including many of the same ones that healthy eaters are trying to avoid:
– Weight gain
– Insulin resistance
– High blood pressure
– Chronic inflammatory diseases
All these chronic problems can be slow to develop and often strike after prevention is out of the question. This is exactly why raw honey is great for wellness: not because it’s a cure-all, but because it’s convenient, never spoils and great tasting – that sure doesn’t hurt.
Raw & unfiltered local honey is a superfood in every sense of the word: super unique, super useful and super good for you. In our decades of bottling rare and unique local honeys from around the country, we’ve come across more than our fair share of ways to eat it, drink it and use it in recipes, cocktails, breakfast, lunch, dinner – you name it.
But our favorite way to eat honey is still just straight-up savoring a spoonful of it a few times a day. By eating a spoonful at a time, with or without other foods, you give your body a chance to digest it properly and make full use of its many wellness-uplifting benefits. To explain why, we’ll turn to some evidence from The Honey Doctor, Dr. Ron Fessenden.
The Basics: Honey as a Health Food
According to Dr Fessenden’s book “The New Honey Revolution,” over 180 substances have been identified in honey, each with various health effects, including:
– 5 enzymes
– 6 vitamins
– 8 lipids
– 12 minerals
– 17 elements
– 18 acids
– 18 amino acids (proteins)
– 18 bioflavonoids
– 26 aroma compounds
These 180 compounds are only present in tiny amounts, but have a significant effect on how your body processes the compounds that make up the majority of the honey: fructose and glucose, AKA fruit sugar and blood sugar.
Because of these compounds (and the relatively small proportion of fructose) in honey, it doesn’t cause blood sugar and insulin spikes the way other sugars do. In fact, when taken in small amounts over a long period of time, honey can help your body regulate blood sugar and insulin levels.
The First Key Time to Have Honey: Early in the Morning
Early in the morning after you wake up, your brain is depleted. It’s spent the night running at full power while you sleep. To prevent grogginess, stress and hunger pangs, it’s important to eat something early in the day. The old adage about breakfast being the most important meal of the day isn’t necessarily true, but a healthy start absolutely has benefits for your body.
The Second Key Time to Have Honey: Before Exercise
Honey is both rapidly processed by the body and contains the exact kind of fuel your muscles need as fuel during exercise. Take a spoonful before exercise to make sure you don’t crash, and if you’re working out for more than around an hour, have more honey during exercise. This effectively lets your brain know, “We’re okay to keep going. We’re not dying here” and prevents you feeling tired before your muscles get tired.
The Third Key Time to Have Honey: During Meals
Eating small amounts of honey throughout the day, for a long period of time, helps to regulate blood sugar. The current diet trend has many Americans trying to cut carbs in all forms from their diets. (That’s using “current” loosely, as carb-cutting diets like Atkins and South Beach have been in vogue for half a century.) But, while honey is primarily sugar, eating it in small doses (1–2 tbsp at most) does not cause a blood sugar crash the way that other simple sugars do – especially high fructose corn syrup.
You can save your body a great deal of metabolic stress by swapping our table sugar (sucrose) and other simple sugars when possible. Check out our “Sweet Swap” blog on the subject for more details.
The Fourth Key Time to Have Honey: Before Bed
Eating honey before bed can help you sleep soundly through the night. “BUT WAIT,” you say, “Are you really trying to tell me that honey is supposed to be a preworkout pick-me-up AND a sleep aid?”
Yes! Honey really is that effective, all because of its unique combination of fructose, glucose and other . It’s a food that is practically designed to benefit the body – except it wasn’t designed. It was made entirely by bees, truly a marvel of nature.
The reason honey helps you sleep is that sleep is actually a high-energy state for the brain. During sleep, the brain requires as much, or even more, energy than during the day. By energizing your brain before bed, you allow it to get to work on recovery, memory consolidation, immune system restoration and learning. If your body is short on energy to power your brain, it may begin producing cortisol and adrenaline: stress hormones meant to wake you up and get you to eat more. These are the last things you want pumping through your veins when you’re trying to get some shut-eye.
If you want see a full explanation of honey’s health benefits, packed with citations from academic studies, check out Dr. Fessenden’s book, “The New Honey Revolution.”
It’s been a busy year, so we’re all still catching up on our gift giving. Fortunately, raw & unfiltered honey can be the perfect, thoughtful gift for most anyone on your list. Here are the 6 types of people that could definitely use some sweet local honey this holiday season.
There’s bound to be someone on your list who’s starting their New Year’s resolution a little early – or maybe they actual kept up with last year’s. Honey can help them hit the gym and get more out of their workout. Since honey is made of simple sugars – fructose and glucose – it’s the perfect source of quick energy. A few carbs before a workout, during a long run, or after can help your body recover quickly. For the honey-loving athlete who’s always on their feet, we recommend our honey packets, which make it easy to bring a squeeze of honey on the go.
Food blogger, home chef, cheese geek or wine mom, there’s a local, raw & unfiltered honey for them. If they’re into food, there’s a good chance they’ll have the palate to appreciate the subtle floral notes in local honey. Since bees use whatever pollen and nectar they can find nearby, every batch of honey they make tastes a little different. In our coastal varietals like So Cal, you can taste hints of citrus, while northern varietals like New England, you can taste a bit of berry pollen. Gift local honey and your foodie friend can easily create sweet, multilayered charcuterie boards or thoughtful pairings with local wines and fruits.
People from Florida are so obsessed with honey, we made a varietal just for them. Okay, we’ll admit, we’re pulling your leg. We bottle 21 unique, local varietals from the Sunshine State clear through to Seattle. No matter where your giftee’s from, you can give them local honey from right down the road or an exotic taste from across the states.
The Stress Baker
There’s something calming about slowly, methodically producing a loaf of bread or batch of cookies – and there’s a good chance someone close to you took up baking this year. Help them on their culinary journey with local honey, which makes a healthier sugar replacement. Try our Clover honey for a simple, all-around-good sweetness or our Great Lakes varietal for a light, bright sweetness that easily complements baked goods.
The Coffee Nut
Bags of coffee make a nice gift, but half the time, they just end up sitting in the freezer until the bean supply is running dry. Local honey is an easy way to mix up your coffee-lovers’ usual gift. Each raw & unfiltered varietal has a distinct flavor, so they can customize their coffee to dial in the perfect cup. Not to mention, honey doesn’t cause the same sugar crash that table sugar does, making it perfect sweetener to wake up with. Try gifting our Texas or Oregon varietals, each with a distinct sweetness that can balance coffee’s bitter flavors.
We all have someone on our gift list who’s all organic, all the time. Whether it’s the cotton in their clothes or the scents in their shampoo, they’re looking for a clean label, which can make it harder to find a special surprise gift. Raw & unfiltered local honey might be right up their alley. It’s always pure, USDA Grade A honey, bottled just the way the bees made it. And it’s made by local beekeepers who provide the best possible care for their bees all year long, whether they’re up in the chilly Midwest or the swampy Southeast.
Honey happens when thousands of bees commune with millions of flowers. Each of those flowers plays a role in the honey’s color, taste and mineral content, making for a unique, local taste – known as terroir – in every bottle. But those millions of flowers aren’t just sitting out on a buffet, waiting to be a bee’s breakfast.
In his book American Terroir, Rowan Jacobsen illustrates how hard a hive works for its yearly honey harvest:
“A honey bee will fly about three miles on a recon mission, and a hive will take advantage of whatever floral resources it can find, so most honey is sourced from a mixture of flowers…A hive might make a light spring honey from apple trees and acacia, then a dark fall honey dominated by goldenrod and knotweed. Numerous other flowers will contribute minor notes.”
Even if you’re not a plant person, you’re probably aware that plants don’t all bloom at once. Look around your neighborhood a few times a year. Wildflowers have a way of showing up for a few weeks, then shipping out, giving your surroundings a temporary refresh.
That’s because plants only bloom when conditions are right: sun, soil and so on. This timing varies hugely from plant to plant and region to region, so bees may be snacking on magnolia early in spring but move on to lavender when summer rolls around. (And they’ll find plenty of clover all year long, which blooms across the country for months at a time.)
So, because bees are constantly stockpiling different nectars and pollens, it’s only natural that honey would change throughout the year. But it’s on beekeepers to decide when to actually harvest it. If heavy rains are followed by a bumper crop of a bee-favorite plant like tupelo, a beekeeper may choose to harvest early and isolate that unique flavor. Or, they may move their hives a few miles down the road, mixing in a variety of other local flora for a better tasting final product. All the while, they have to tend to the health of the hive, ensuring that there’s plenty of honey – and a variety of pollen sources – to get by on.
No matter the season, making local honey can be quite a handful. That’s why we celebrate the hardworking American beekeepers who make it possible – and why we protect its local flavors by always bottling it raw & unfiltered.
To most, honey is just another sweetener, like sugar or stevia. But there’s more to honey than just sweetness. If you’ve only ever had plain old honey – probably in a bear bottle, not particularly light or dark, no memorable flavors – you’re missing out. Local honeys each have their own unique flavor that’s can add richness to your recipes or morning coffee.
To really appreciate a bottle of local honey, you’ll want to start before you even open it. Labels vary considerably, but look closely and you’ll learn plenty. Here are a few common terms you’ll see:
Clover is the most common source of pollen in the US, growing in one form or another virtually everywhere east of the Appalachian range. Bees love it. It makes for a mild, neutral sweetness, and complements other pollen sources well. Clover honey can still vary somewhat by region, so make sure to check where your honey is from as well.
This means the bees got nectar from a variety of wildflowers, as opposed to a single source, like the crops on a large farm. This is common catch-all term, and these honeys can vary substantially by region and country of origin. These honeys are likely to have more nuanced flavors than clover honey.
Other Flowers or Fruits
A label may also mention floral sources. This is where things really get interesting. Bees make honey from almost anything that blooms, and every source of nectar and pollen imparts a different flavor. It’s relatively rare to find honey that’s monofloral – containing only one kind of pollen. You’re more likely to see blends of a few floral sources. This is because bees head out and look for whatever’s near their hive. Unless their hive is in the middle of a giant farm – which it may very well be – any honey that bees make is more likely to have a mix.
Country of Origin
Where honey is from tells you more about its taste and quality than anything else. Honey can range from a single-origin bottle from a local beekeeper all the way to a blend from different countries. In some cases, honey may be ultra-filtered to obscure its origin, so having no country of origin is usually a bad sign. Look for language like “Product of ____” or “Made in ____.”
Bees keep their hives pretty warm, usually well over 90 degrees, but heating honey much more than that can damage the sugars inside and mute its natural flavors. Raw honey means it hasn’t been heated or pasteurized, which is unnecessary as honey is naturally anti-bacterial.
This means the honey hasn’t been through a strainer to remove anything that’s not honey. A little filtering is okay, but if your honey is completely clear, with no cloudiness or murkiness, it’s probably been ultra-filtered, which removes much of the flavor. (If you want the full story on filtering, check out this article from Vaughn Bryant, the preeminent pollen analysis expert.)
Local honeys are all worth exploring. Like wine, they have terroir: a unique character that comes from the soil, plants and environment. They’re true honeys that reflect the place and respect the beekeepers they come from. Next time you’re shopping for honey, take a closer look at the bottle. You might just learn something.
June 22–28, 2020 is a big week in the honey world: Pollinator Awareness Week. We at Local Hive understand that not everyone gets to spend their days working with bees. So, let’s find out what the buzz is all about: what’s a pollinator, and why do they matter?
You’re a Pollinator
A pollinator is any living thing that carries plant pollen around from flower to flower, which helps plants reproduce. People, animals and insects usually don’t even realize when they’re pollenating. They’re just going about their lives, foraging or walking around, and happen to carry a little pollen along with them.
Honey bees are the world’s most preeminent professional pollinators. Beekeepers take them from farm to farm, letting them feast on acres of land where many of our favorite foods – like almonds, berries and squash – are in bloom. Once the bees help these plants reproduce, those fields are set to yield more than they ever could otherwise. In the US, American bees and beekeepers add around $20 billion of crops every year this way.
But bees aren’t the only pollinator that matters – just the one we depend on the most. There are the thousands of other species who play a part, including wasps, ants, bats, birds, rodents, monkeys and even the much-maligned “murder hornets”.
What’s Plaguing the Pollinators?
Humans are part of an invisible war on pollinators. When we selectively kill certain species of plants and animals – say, with insecticide, herbicide or weed killer – there are countless side effects that we can’t predict. This NPR interview with USDA entomologist Sammy “Doctor Buggs” Ramsey breaks down how these side effects threaten bees.
– When bees feed on only one crop, they don’t get a balanced diet. It’s like trying to live on potatoes alone; you won’t die, but you won’t be healthy. Weeds and wildflowers are valuable parts of their diet.
– Seemingly harmless pesticides can end up in a plant’s nectar and pollen, affecting bees in ways we can’t predict.
– Parasites like varroa mites destroy bee colonies from the inside out. Beekeepers the world over are studying ways to make their colonies resilient to this deadly, rapidly reproducing pest.
And that’s just apis mellifera. Just one species of one pollinator. All of them face unique threats. If many of our pollinators are facing extinction, where does that leave us?
The End of the World as We Know It
A little alarmist, sure, but pollinators tie our world together. They’re a key connector in most every ecosystem, helping to clean the air, create rich soil, prevent severe weather and support wildlife. While we humans love honey bees because they help us make dinner, more than 75% of flowering plants need pollinators. Without them, they wouldn’t be able to reproduce, animals wouldn’t be able to eat them, and countless ecosystems would be thrown out of whack.
Do Your Part for Pollination
Year-round, we partner with our friends over at PACE– that’s Pollinator Awareness through Conservation and Education – to do our part for pollinators. Part of every purchase of our raw & unfiltered local honey goes to PACE and supports their mission of restoring habitats for our little heroes.
PACE is organized by the newly reopened Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado. If you’d like to see 7000+ pollinators of the non-buzzing variety, pay them a visit. Right now, they’re in dire need of support, having lost more than $2 million in revenue due to COVID-19. Making a donation right now will help them conserve our precious pollinators – and our planet – for decades to come.
In the middle of a global crisis, many parents are faced with a time crunch like never before. There simply aren’t enough hours to balance work, childcare and chores. The go-to advice from mom bloggers and the like is to make a schedule and stick to it. That’s a tall order in a time when no one knows what’s coming next.
If we’re being honest, most of us can’t even keep our own schedule, let alone make our kids stick to one. That’s why now, when the entire Internet is promoting productivity “hacks,” at-home activities and endless tips & tricks, we’ve decided to take a different tack.
Right now, the best way to get more done is to focus on your kids. Really focus on them. Give them the uninterrupted attention they need every day. Be curious about what they’re saying and feeling.
It will still take plenty of time, but showing your children a new kind of genuine interest can pay off for both them and you. If you continue to postpone and water down the time you spend with them, you’re delaying the inevitable: tantrums, attention-seeking, breakdowns.
Their world has been shaken up, and they’re still figuring things out. Right now, they need you to make sense of it for them. For most kids, this doesn’t mean explaining the crisis in more detail. It’s about showing them how to deal with it through your actions and attitudes. Ad-libbing. Improvising. Unschooling. Being a thermostat, not a thermometer. Being here in this moment with your kids, as tough as this moment may be.
Spending ten minutes doing an activity together shows that you’re here and still in control – and it pays off in terms of productivity. Afterwards, let them have screen time or self-directed play. It’ll be easier to get away and work on your own for a while once your kid feels seen and heard.
There is no parental panacea right now. Parents are not ok, and that’s okay. Everything is changing, so don’t expect to keep up with everything 100%. Start by giving your kids the attention they desperately need, then move on to the tips and tricks for getting more done. Work during their naps. Use screen time strategically. Plan activities together. Practice self-care (with some raw & unfiltered honey.) And maybe, just maybe, even try making a schedule.