Just Bee Apiary, Honeygirl Meadery attending Farm to Fork Picnic
Posted May 9
Updated May 10
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Supporters of this year's 10th anniversary Farm to Fork Picnic will get one sweet deal when they sample Triangle-made sips and snacks derived from local honey, fruit and spices.
Just Bee Apiary and Honeygirl Meadery are return presenters at the 2017 Farm to Fork Picnic Weekend, which on June 2-4 will mark its 10th anniversary of celebrating the connections between sustainable farmers, chefs and culinary artisans.
Proceeds from the fundraiser benefit the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), which develops and promotes just and equitable food and farming systems that conserve natural resources, strengthen communities, improve health outcomes and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond, and the PLANT Farm Enterprise Incubator at the W.C. Breeze Family Farm in Hurdle Mills, which incubates new farmers and offers training on small scale sustainable farming techniques.
While the two businesses exemplify the Farm to Fork mission, they do so in different ways. Just Bee Apiary, located in Chapel Hill, is focused on growing its stock of hives to increase the beneficial impact of pollinators on nearby farms and home gardens.
Because of the volume needed annually - more than 6,000 pounds of wildflower honey alone - Durham's Honeygirl Meadery sources its supply from both Sawmill Bee Farm of St. Pauls in Robeson County and an out-of-state provider.
The latter also supplies orange blossom honey, which can't be sourced here since North Carolina lacks orange groves. Locally-grown herbs and fruit, like strawberries recently picked at McAdams Farm in Efland, are used to flavor the current line of eight meads.
Unlike beer and wine, mead is made from fermented honey. While some meads are sweet, owner Diane Currier prefer to ferment Honeygirl products to the dry side. She plans to sample the strawberry, set for May release, and others at the picnic.
"I'm driven by the drink-the-field idea of flavors, so Farm to Fork is something I love to do," Currier says. "I care deeply about expressing the flavors of North Carolina. I bought our ginger this year from three different farms at the Durham Market so we could share the love. I know that, when I open the first bottle of strawberry mead from this year, it will take me right back to the middle of the strawberry patch."
Currier calls some of her ingredients "hyper local." The term is well earned since a loyal customer, who moved from Cary to California, insisted she transplant his productive fig tree to her back yard. She also likes to experiment with non-local ingredients, however, and is currently working on a tropical, spicy-sweet combination of habanero pepper and mango.
If successful, it won't be available for sale until 2018, but customers might get a sip at Honeygirl's birthday party in late October.
Just Bee Apiary has found a way to incorporate a shot of boozy flavor in its alcohol-free whiskey honey. It's a collaboration with TOPO Organic Spirits, which allowed Just Bee owner Marty Hanks to establish a rooftop apiary for his Hometown Honey Collection.
Hanks obtained a few of the barrels used to age Eight Oak Carolina Whiskey and draws flavors imbued in the wood. He'll use this to sweeten homemade ice cream that will be sampled at the Farm to Fork Picnic.
Hanks' primary focus this season is on rebuilding hive stock for the Hometown Honey Collection. These "micro-local" honeys are derived from apiaries set in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Pittsboro, Saxapahaw and Hillsborough. They get their unique flavor from flora located within the bees' three to five mile foraging range.
Hanks currently is out of stock of these Hometown varieties, but they should be resupplied later this season when hives become productive. He prefers to check his hives infrequently to minimize disruptions, which can cause stress and spread disease.
"Bees are an extremely intelligent species, and you have to treat them with respect," he says. "Unlike a lot of farms, which move hives around for pollination, we keep ours in one spot to breed out and thrive in the same microclimate. For consumers, it creates an identity. It's natural to want to help protect bees that live in the same place you do."
Hanks appreciates the efforts of Farm to Fork to forge relationships between consumers and artisan producers like himself.
"They're showing the broader spectrum of what it means to be a farmer today, living with the land," he says, recalling that his parents used a lot of chemical products on their tobacco farm. "The fact is, that kind of farming doesn't sustain us. We need to have more respect for what gives us life, and I'm glad to stand with others who see it this way, too."
WRAL is a sponsor of the 10th anniversary Farm to Fork Picnic Weekend, which will be held June 2-4 in Raleigh and Fearrington Village. Order tickets at www.farmtoforknc.com.