Earth Day 2020: Let's hear it for the bees

Due to Covid-19, this Earth Day, the 50th, is sad and challenging but it is also a perfect time to reflect upon ways to protect and honor nature. And while every Earth Day means 102 press releases in my email inbox, on everything from clean make-up to rainforest protection, I was particularly attracted to the birds and the bees this year.
Being sequestered in my home for weeks on end - what week is it? what day? - is only counterbalanced by the walks I take here in Branford. Blooming cherry blossoms interspersed with hydrangea, dogwoods and yellow loosestrife explode with color. Dizzy from the beauty, it is easy to forget that we're living in Plague times. Take a look around - from a safe distance. It's gorgeous.
What all this floral beauty means is that the bees are in hog heaven. In normal years I'd be getting ready to pad down to the local farmers' markets for some homespun honey. It is delicious, but I didn't know too much about it until I decided to explore other beekeepers' honey from more far flung locales, Nebraska and Colorado.
Denver-based startup Bee K’onscious Artisanal Honey offers single-origin raw honey online and each jar comes with a QR-coded label that allows customers to scan and trace the honey to the single beekeeper who produced it. This “hive to home” honey brand has partnered with TagOne, a provider of blockchain technology, to provide customers the ability to ensure the source of the jar is producing pure, unfiltered, unpasteurized, non-blended honey.
I spoke to their smart founder, Matt Kollmorgen, who told me that he was first inspired to get into the honey business as a child enjoying Happy Meals at McDonald's - really. This was his introduction to honey, and as he got older he knew he could improve upon the model he'd so enjoyed as a child. Moreover, a friend who worked as a trader at the time filled him in on the not-so-sweet side of the industrial sugar industry. Sadly, Kollmorgen realized a lot of store-bought honey is hardly honey at all, replete with corn syrup and fillers.
The honey Bee K'onscious has been selling is single-origin and unadulterated. "I've tasted good and not-so-good honey," said Kollmorgen, "and everything in between. [The store-bought honey] all looks the same and tastes the same." Indeed, the first thing one notices about his honey is that it has a lighter or a darker color - I sampled the California Raw Honey, as light as a translucent mustard sky.
With the Covid-19 crisis, Kollmorgen agreed it's an excellent time to invest in wholesome products such as he provides. He doesn't even let his children drink soda pop but has a recipe for how to make a honey-infused soda-like drink on his site. Under "Creative Ways to Use Honey", he lists his recipe twist on the sweet soda:
Ingredients
12 oz can Seltzer Water
1 lemon
1 tsp of minced ginger(fresh or jarred)
1 T Honey
ice
Directions
Slice and squeeze lemon juice into large microwave safe glass. Add the ginger and warm for about 20 seconds so the juice is warm, but not hot.
Add in the honey and stir to incorporate
Add in seltzer water and ice
For an adult beverage try adding in your favorite spirits.
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Anna Campisi starred in the TLC hit 90-Day FiancΓ© last season, and in my mind stood out because of both her sweetness and the manner in which she met her husband Mursel. She is from Nebraska and he from Turkey; they met on a Facebook chat room for beekeepers.
For several years, Campisi, the mother of three boys, has worked as a beekeeper and now offers her delicious raw products for sale online. Her business, Beauty and the Bees, is both adorably named and managed by Campisi and her equally ebullient partner Mursel.
I asked her to explain how bees make honey (a lesson I forgot) and she was kind enough to oblige: "There’s worker (honey) bees who go out looking for nectar and food sources and they have different jobs throughout the hive. Some are guard bees; some are nurse bees; some are bees that take out the dead. They graduate. They start working right when they are born - cleaning out the cell they were in. The younger bees are usually nurses. Female bees are worker bees."
The "Queen Bee" hardly needs a job title explanation: she is in the hive and her job is to lay eggs. "Drones are male bees and they don't work at all. They just eat and mate," said Campisi.
Interestingly, neither Campisi nor Kollmorgen seemed to put a lot of store by so-called organic honeys. Kollmorgen said, "In the U.S. you cannot certify organic honey. You have to go outside the U.S. to do this because we use too much GMOs; there are traces of pesticides [and other pollutants]." He pointed to areas where they can truly say there are no contaminants, like being in the middle of a rainforest, as some of the only places to claim honey is "organic."
And Campisi bemoaned, "I have an issue because bees can fly up to one-to-two miles. You can’t control where they're collecting nectar. A lot of people like to say the honey is organic." (This relates to the issue of determining where the honey is sourced - a flying bee is not like a stationary chicken coop.)
She conducted an Instagram Live session a few days ago and explained to all of us that it takes a heckuva lot of bees to produce honey. I am not a natural numbers person, so my head was swarming with the details. I followed up to ask her about it and she said, "One honey bee can produce 1/12 a teaspoon in its lifetime. It takes thousands of bees to make one jar."
The bees, though, won't continue to "bee" there for any of us if their numbers continue to dwindle. During the Covid-19 crisis, in areas like the UK, they are no longer cutting verges (the strip of grass along roads) which allows flowers to blossom. The bees still have access to nectar, which can only be a good thing.
Campisi, like Kollmorgen, are clearly passionate about what they do albeit from different parts of the business. She actually suits up to harvest honey (and though she laughs off bee stings, they are a job hazard); while he is diligently sourcing the best beekeepers, whether in California or Brazil.
On Earth Day, it is important to think of what the bees give us - they are not only pollenating flowers but allowing us to have fruits and almonds of all varieties - and think about what we should afford them. “I think a lot [of the decimation of bees] has to do with the chemicals we’re using," Campisi said. "We’re spraying a lot of pesticides on the flowers bees pollinate. I’ve had hives - not the whole entire hive, thank God, but some bees have died because of poisoning in my hives." 🐝
To order from Kollmorgen: visit https://bkshoney.com/; find him on IG at @beekonscious.
To order from Campisi: visit https://www.omahabees.com; buzz over to @annamcampisi on Instagram. She also sells candles, jams, infused honeys, lotions and soaps.
PHOTOS: Bee'Konscious - used with permission from the company; Photo of Campisi, from the beekeeper; Bee picture, Wikimedia Commons Images: By John Severns = Severnjc - Photo by John Severns., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1438935

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