Our inaugural meeting on Jan. 28 was “sweet” on several levels.
- We were honored to have a world-class professional beekeeper – Geri Hens of Hens Honey Bee Farm in Pendleton – as our guest speaker.
- More than 30 people were in attendance on an evening when Mother Nature was making driving challenging with rain and fog.
- And we were the beneficiaries of the generosity of our host, Frizlen Group Architects, as well as four businesses donating refreshments: Martin Cooks, Chateau Buffalo, Community Beer Works and Buffalo Cheese Traders, LLC.
For the love of honeybees
In her discussions of her passion for beekeeping and the challenges facing operators of small farms in New York State, Geri Hens made it crystal clear that she is on the same page as our chapter and parent Slow Food USA in advocating for food and farming policies that are good for the public, good for our planet, and good for farmers and workers.
In Hens’ case, the workers are the thousands of honeybees that populate the 1,000 colonies she maintains in 11 counties in western and upstate New York. “Upstate,” in her mind, is north of New York City and its adjacent counties.
The only New York State producer of USDA raw organic New York Native Wildflower and Tree Varietal Honey, Hens said her hard work is guided closely by the beliefs of her Native American heritage.
The honeybees, which she noted are not “her bees,” are the most important element of the business and her major concern is that they are healthy, not the income that the business generates.
Honey is the bees’ food, she noted, and her business relies on their producing honey above and beyond what they need to survive. During the past two years when there has been summertime drought, Hens has given back to the bees, supplementing the honey available to some of the colonies to assure their health and survival.
Drought is only one challenge faced by Hens, who has worked in the past on a dairy farm and as a college health sciences/environmental sciences professor, and found her way to apiculture as the result of a life-changing auto accident.
Another major challenge in New York is the diminishing numbers of native plants and shrubs whose pollen is essential for honeybees. Home gardeners can support honeybees by not ridding their yards of such plants — which Hens said many consider “weeds.” And when adding new plants to a home garden, she suggests they choose native varieties.
Asked what blossoms honeybees are most attracted to, Hens suggested the next time you visit a local nursery you pay attention to the plants that are attracting bees and make your selections from among them.
She also encourages gardeners to keep their gardens/yards chemical-free and to be sure to provide water sources such as bird baths and fountains for nature’s pollinators.
Hens Honey Bee Farm produces 16 kinds of wild vegetation honey in three forms: liquid, cream and comb. Each kind has its own distinct flavor depending on the colonies that produce it and the wild vegetation growing in the vicinity.
Many of those in attendance purchased jars of wildflower honey from Hens.
The first “review” was in within hours of the meeting’s conclusion as one buyer noted in a Facebook post: “Went home and had ginger tea with honey. Honestly I haven’t tasted honey like that since I was a little girl.”