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Following the Upstate Honey Trail
Photo credit: Rob Cleary COOKFOX
Once she started looking for local honey in NYC, Giulia Grazzini found herself surrounded. From rooftop gardens like the one found at COOKFOX, an NYC-based architectural studio, to week-long honey festivals like Honey Fest, New York is full of honey bees and their delicious nectar. But it wasn’t until Giulia took a trip upstate when she discovered a treasure trove of honey-based delights:
On a summer weekend, my brother and I decided to drive North from New York City to Hudson, a charming European looking settlement located along the western border of Columbia County, New York. As my brother loves honey and had never visited the area close to the Catskills Mountains before, we decided to plan a two day “escape” from NYC. Our escape included a visit to the Hudson village, a hike in the Catskills and a few stops at local honey honey-based product vendors.
Our first stop was for a mid morning café in Rhinebeck, where we visited a shop called Nectar. Aside from the beautiful local custom furnishings and refined architectural elements that Nectar carried, what caught our attention was a cosmetic brand made with locally produced honey: Mira’s Naturals. After inquiring further, we learned that Mira’s Naturals is based in Woodstock, NY and was started with the intent to use honey for purposes other than to eat. The family`s daughter, Mira was diagnosed with Autism and the brand was created as a sustainable way to support her needs. Since they learned of Mira’s diagnosis, her parents started looking for healthier and more natural options to use in their household. With months of research, the discovery of the practical uses of honey, and the support of beekeepers, they began the production of sustainable body care products. Since these products are natural, the shelf life is between 6-12 months. The incorporation of natural preservatives, such as Vitamin E, helps avoid the use of toxic fillers and dyes.
I couldn’t leave Nectar without buying a Sunbeam candle first. Not just because of the attractive packaging, but because of Sunbeam’s commitment to social responsibility and environmentally-sound practices. Their candle shop was also entirely solar-powered and they do what they can to compost, recycle, and stay carbon-neutral (including carpooling to the office). Every candle is handcrafted from beeswax and made with solar-power. That's impressive!
Around mid afternoon, we arrived at Hudson in the Columbia County of NY. Hundreds of historic buildings representing every architectural style from the last three centuries surrounded us like a life-size model at a museum. With its diverse and creative community, small antiques shops, jewelry artists and art galleries, Hudson is the perfect location for a meandering weekend stroll. Along the main streets of this beautifully preserved urban gem, a botanical perfumery called 2 Note caught my attention. Within moments, I was sampling and stocking up on a honey-based face cleanser and a scrub that delighted my skin (two products that have since become part of my daily routine).
Hudson Valley Bee Supply, based in Kingston, was the most resourceful find along our Upstate NY honey trail. I had the pleasure to talk with Jorik Philipps, one of the three partners of this hub for NY based beekeepers. Hudson Valley Bee Supply is not just a shop; it is a facility for honey production as well - and it is pretty impressive as they produce about 70,000 pounds of honey annually! They also provide all kinds of services, from honey extraction and bee removal to classes and workshops to keep their network up to date on technology and skills.
The small store has a backdrop of seasonal foliage and the hills surrounding Kingston. It is quite inspiring when walking up to the front entrance. When you enter the store, the classroom and the library full of technical handbooks are the first thing you notice. Just in front of the library, there is a full line of woodenware, clothes, food and tools used for the art of beekeeping. The investment to start beekeeping is approximately $500, which includes all the essentials and the bees that generally come from the State of Georgia.
Among all the fascinating aspects of the world of bees we learned during our tour, my favorite discovery was the bees' social behavior. Bees are able to quickly mobilize a large number of foragers to gather floral resources that may only be available for a short period of time. Their ability to communicate specific locations of pollen paradises by doing a “Round Dance” or “Waggle Dance” was also fascinating. While Jorik was taking us through the store, my brother couldn’t resist the temptation to buy a few handcrafted honey soaps and jars of honey for gifts for our family.
I have often wondered why honey has many different colors and I took advantage of a beekeeping guru like Jorik to find the answer. Honey color and flavor differ depending on the blossoms that the nectar was collected from. There are more than 300 unique types of honey available in the United States, each originating from a different floral source. The color ranges from nearly colorless to dark brown and its flavor varies from delectably mild to distinctively bold, depending on where the honey bees buzzed. As a general rule, light-colored honey is milder in taste and dark-colored honey is stronger.
We are often exposed to news about the natural benefits and nutritional importance of honey, but we rarely have the opportunity to ask specific questions of beekeepers or meet the tiny honey creators themselves. That`s why we left Hudson Valley Bee Supply with an itch to investigate more of the fascinating world of bees.
Photo credit: Rob Clearly COOKFOX
Devoted to a vision of integrated, environmentally responsive design, COOKFOX has dedicated its roof to a haven for bees. Luca Baraldo is the mastermind behind the beekeeping activity in hopes of getting the company involved in urban agriculture and rooftop farming. Inspired by his uncle who has been a beekeeper in Verona, Italy for three decades, Luca was able to convince his 69 colleagues that starting a beekeeping activity was a worthy project that would demonstrate the firm's belief in the sustainable interaction between buildings and the natural environment. The honey produced throughout the year is given to employees and as gifts for clients. (To see a video of their honey-making process, click here.)