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By Kate Corry-Saavedra, Slow Food USA intern

The production of honey truly involves the whole farm. The honeybees are the most obvious players, yet their keepers also play an incredibly important role. Harvesting honey is no simple task, (I know, I have done it!), and all honey connoisseurs are in debt to the bravery and knowledge of small-scale beekeepers.

{{ image(2820, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”:”200″, “height”:”300″, “method”: “img”}) }}The variety of honeys on the Ark of Taste is the result of knowledgeable and dedicated farmers. Producing Ark of Taste honeys like Sourwood, or Gallberry takes a special set of skills which includes understanding exactly when to bring the bees to the pollination site to ensure that the bees are collecting nectar and pollen from only certain flowers. In the case of White Kiawe honey, the honey must be harvested at a very specific time in order to ensure the best, most pure honey. Currently there is only one beekeeper with the expertise to produce the most pure White Kiawe. If the production of White Kiawe honey declines, and the beekeeper does not pass on his expertise, we will be losing an important and delicate relationship between bee and beekeeper.

Small-scale beekeepers also play a vital role in our functioning agricultural system, and could potentially be even more important in the future. In the ongoing debate about Colony Collapse Disorder, the phenomenon in which millions of beehives began “collapsing” at astonishing rates, experts and scientists have argued over what caused all of those bees to disappear. Their conclusions blamed everything from pesticides to electromagnetic radiation, yet one conclusion remained undebatable: small-scale beekeepers were largely unaffected. Whatever it was that was harming the bees, it certainly had to do with industrial beekeeping practices.

Small-scale beekeepers, therefore played an enormously important role, as their bees provided a buffer to the great losses other beekeepers were experiencing. In our current food system, losses like those that occurred due to CCD, are not as uncommon as we’d like to think. Biodiversity, and the diverse farming practices which come with it, are the best form of protection from these potential disasters.