by matthew wexler | September 24, 2012 | Food & Drink
The South Fork is sweet on seasonal, locally produced honey, fresh from the hive.
Ray Lackey inspects a frame with students.
Bears full of Hamptons Honey Company’s local flavor.
A Dayton Farm Honey worker bee gathers pollen.
The Hamptons is buzzing about the importance of one of our greatest natural foods—honey. This is good news since the latest reports about honey sting: More than half of US honey consumption (410 million pounds per year total) is imported, much of it from China. And without a national honey standard or definition by the Food and Drug Administration, the imported product may contain traceable amounts of antibiotics and lead. Add colony collapse disorder into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe that isn’t so sweet. Fortunately, Hamptons beekeepers are part of a growing trend to preserve the artisan craft of beekeeping and honey production.
Mary Woltz, founder of Bees’ Needs, says that she sells honey to support her bee habit. She arrived on the East End to manage bees for the Hamptons Honey Company in 2003, and when the company expanded to meet demand, Woltz took over the local hives, and Bees’ Needs was born. In high season, she spends seven days a week tending to her 84 hives, but she believes that the bees’ welfare, along with the resulting premium product and appreciation of her customers, is worth it. “My honey changes with the seasons,” says Woltz. “It will be light and delicate in the spring and more complex throughout the summer. And I can tell you which hive every jar comes from.”
For the honey enthusiast, it’s worth comparing local varieties as each batch is different depending upon the flowers blooming in the area at that time. According to master beekeeper Ray Lackey, who leads a novice beekeeping class at the South Fork Natural History Museum (SoFo), “Long Island does not have large acres of any crop or exclusive flower to claim as a varietal honey, so we have a wildflower blend, which is generally a very good, mild, light amber product.”
The museum established a teaching apiary for Lackey’s class, and this season’s participants are gaining hands-on experience as well as a greater appreciation for the local ecosystem. “The presence of the honeybees helps show our interdependence with other organisms, such as insects, and thus provides an educational opportunity,” says Lackey. “The plight of honeybees is also providing an opportunity to point out the losses of our less-studied native pollinators due to some of the same problems, such as pesticides used both by agriculture and homeowners.”
Classes like Lackey’s are encouraging novice beekeepers to get in on the action, but Dayton Farm Honey’s Rob Deichert Jr., a second-generation beekeeper, picked up the hobby several years ago after returning to the area with his family. He believes that the Hamptons is a well-suited environment for bees because they take advantage of the well-manicured hedges and flora. He anticipates generating more than 100 gallons of unfiltered, raw honey this year from his 12 hives and offers cautionary words of advice to those considering dabbling in beekeeping: “Take a course, and definitely start with two hives, so you have a comparison,” says Deichert. “You will see a quick, dramatic evolution. Lots of people want to start hives, but without training, mismanagement can affect other hives.”
The honey trend also represents a growing movement in the local food scene. One of the East End’s greatest honey supporters and advocates is Frédéric Rambaud, founder of the Hamptons Honey Company, which has extended its production into the tristate area by partnering with other local like-minded beekeepers. “The Hamptons are, I dare say, the first American breadbasket,” says Rambaud. “The same families have been farming land in this area since the 1640s. It’s absolutely amazing to see the evolution of the food scene on the East End, including traceable honey production. Because of the slow-food movement and farmers’ markets, there is definitely a greater awareness of provenance.”
Whether you are interested in beekeeping or simply like a drizzle in your tea, the next time you grab a jar of your favorite local amber-hued honey, remember it took about 60,000 buzzing neighbors to create that sweet treat.
photography by Lilyana Vynogradova/gettyimages.com (honey pot)