Recently a question regarding “local” honey was posed to our East Nashville Farmers Market blog. We asked Carol Hagen, one of the two beekeepers who serve on our board, to answer.
QUESTION: Is the local honey sold at this market from this area or Goodlettsville only? I can only seem to find honey from there, and would like something generated a little closer to us.
ANSWER: Actually there are beekeepers throughout the Nashville area, including Johnson’s Honey Farm in Goodlettsville. Currently, much is being made of “local”; it’s absolutely true that raw (unpasteurized), lightly filtered honey contains pollen that helps to build a natural resistance to local pollen allergies. However, the impression that “local” means within a couple of miles of your home is an exaggeration.
For starters, seasonal winds blow pollen for several miles and bees can fly many miles to collect pollen and honey for their hive. Farmers seek pollination contracts from beekeepers, so it’s not uncommon for honey bee hives to be driven to regional crops. Often overlooked by the consumer is the bee’s need for clean water, both for drinking and spraying onto the honey comb to keep the hive cool in the summer time. So consumers may want to consider, IF “local” refers to a circumference of only a few miles of their home, does their locale include chemical free plants and water?
Truth is the majority of beekeepers who sell their honey at farmers markets and in local stores often maintain twenty-five to several hundred hives in regional apiaries. Beekeepers with small apiaries harvest less than 300 pounds of honey, which is not enough honey to bottle, label, market and sell at a profit.
When it comes to eating honey for local pollen allergies, I’ve started suggesting people consider the Regional Gardening Zones ( http://www.garden.org/zipzone/ ) as a guide for local honey. Similar species of plants grow within districts and regions of Tennessee. Honey collected on thoughtfully cultivated farms or in wilderness areas are excellent sources of raw honey, all of which contain regional pollens. Bees forage for pollen, but pollen also clings to their bodies after they visit a nectar source. Professional beekeepers locate their apiaries near fresh spring water, ponds, creeks or rivers; not surprising, property with clean water often supports an abundance of nectar sources.
The new garden zone maps place Nashville in the 6B-7A zones; both zones sweep the length of Tennessee. We live in the Broadleaf Forest, which historically provides a tasty variety of honey; including clover, the standard American honey. Our middle Tennessee clover honey is especially good because it is a combination of cultivated and feral clovers: white, yellow, red or crimson clovers, and wild Alslike clover. With such a wide variety of clover species, the color of clover honey may vary within the same region.
Wildflower is honey made up of several species of wildflower and tree nectars. Beekeepers may wait until the end of the spring or fall nectar flows to extract all of their capped honey at once; this honey offers a blend of flavors that tastes unique to the available flowers. Tennessee also has crop specific honey: black locust, basswood, sourwood, blackberry, rose, magnolia, tulip, fireweed or goldenrod. Bees placed in cultivated fields may yield other specific honey flavors: buckwheat, canola or rape seed, sunflower and Russian sage.
A beekeeper may label their honey with a title other than “wildflower” if they can identify and confirm their honey crop is from one nectar source. Using Sourwood Honey as an example, honey boxes filled with capped and uncapped honey prior to the Sourwood Tree nectar flow are removed. New boxes filled with empty drawn out foundation are added to each hive. After the Sourwood nectar flow ends, which means after the sourwood flowers are finished, the beekeeper will mark each sourwood honey box and let the bees cap their honey cells. Once the honey is ready, only sourwood honey frames are extracted together and no other type of honey is added in the filtering step. The reward is a jar of highly prized Tennessee Sourwood Honey.
The Nashville Farmers Market community includes artisans who infuse honey with herbs or essential oils. There are honey products, such as “creamed honey” which is a mild, spreadable honey made from controlled crystallization. Whipped honey is made by blending honey for an extended time which infuses air into the honey; this also results in a spreadable honey. Honey butter is a blend of honey and butter, which is considered a dairy product.
The Goodlettsville honey you refer to is very likely Johnson Honey Farm. The Johnson Honey Farm was established in Goodlettsville in 1918 and remains a family owned and run farm. It is a large apiary and does business throughout Tennessee. The Johnsons also partner with apiaries in Georgia and Florida. When you consider the challenges of farming, it’s quite an accomplishment for one family to sustain the delicate practice of beekeeping for nearly 100 years. Success does not mean they are no longer conscientious about their farming techniques, it means they have evolved with the market and have managed to remain large enough to support their family.
Tennessee is fortunate to have both large scale apiaries and serious hobbyist beekeepers who maintain three to twenty-five hives. You may find a honey product you love to use or you may consider tasting a variety of honey flavors. Either way, I suggest you consider “local” honey to be from the larger Nashville area, middle Tennessee; and include East and West Tennessee within the Garden Zones 6B-7A. This approach enables you to benefit from a larger spectrum of naturally occurring pollens found in flavorful, raw honey…Tennessee pure, golden honey.
— Carol Hagen, Queen Bee Pollinators