Eyes of the World on Asheville’s 11th Annual Honey Fest - TribPapers
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Eyes of the World on Asheville’s 11th Annual Honey Fest

Melipona Bee tender- Consolación Puc of Tixcacalcupul Village Yucatán. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Robertson.

Asheville – Jars and jars of flavorful honey can be found at the Salvage Station at 468 Riverside Drive in Asheville this coming Sunday, June 5th from 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM.  Each and every jar has its own distinctive flavor, as the bees have gathering the nectar from the flowering trees nearby to produce a regionally distinct honey.  For a better understanding of how labor intensive the making of this honey is, CHBR founder and executive director, Carl Chesick said 2 million flowers must be visited to collect enough nectar to produce a 16 oz. jar of honey—-unimaginable!

This is a family friendly event, held outdoors this year.  Music By Queen Bee and the Honey Lovers band as well as Chikomo Marimba, a Zimbabwean Marimba group will liven up the afternoon, as you wander around from booth to booth, enjoying the ambiance, learning all about the life of bees and tasting their produce.    At this annual Honey Fest, the Center for Honeybee Research (CHBR) celebrates all things relating to bees. This 501 (c) (3) organization dedicates themselves to protecting the pollinators to ensure their survival. They educate the public about the importance of pollinator gardens, using less chemicals in their yards and providing a habitat for all insects. They feel, “it’s important to help people realize the insect apocalypse is real; as we are seeing a decline in the 20,000 varieties of bees, butterflies, moths and beetles.  Although many insects, birds and bats offer pollination, the honeybee has become extremely important to the agricultural industry.” Children under 12, as well as educators and teachers with a school ID are admitted for free, but otherwise tickets for general admission are $12. 

The 11th annual Black Jar Honey Tasting Contest is held at this annual festival. Most of the beekeepers send their honey to be judged from all over the world to the Center for Honeybee Research.   Many jars of course were collected from beekeepers locally as well as from other states in the United States, but they also come from as far away, as Turkey, Greece, Spain, Brazil and Mexico. Amazingly, this is the largest honey tasting contest in the world—-and much preferred by some to state fair contests for its impartiality and equality of judging.  

Qualified celebrity judges (14 this year) will taste the honey for quality and flavor.  The jars of honey are all unmarked and covered in a black cloth, so they are identical in appearance.  The top 30 finalists make it to this final round at this Honey Fest to be judged. Winners in more than 10 categories are then selected with one Grand Prize winner. The overall winner this year receives a grand prize of $5,500.  Last year’s Grand Prize winner was Hekenoa (Taawi) Te Kurapa of Ruatahuna, New Zealand.  He received the “World’s Best Tasting Honey” trophy.

Mayan Melipona Bee Sanctuary Project

A fascinating, unusual medicinal honey can be found at the “Mayan Melipona Bee Sanctuary” table, The project was founded by Rebecca Ann Robertson to support the Melipona bees and their women Bee Tenders of the Yucatan and Meso-America. The Mexican Yucatan is home to the Mayan Stingless Melipona bee, which is considered a sacred bee in the Mayan culture and is a tradition which dates back 3200 years. One must remember, these bees have been and are a major pollinator for the rich, dense rainforests in this area. Two years ago Robertson was invited to go to Asheville’s Sister City of Valladolid in Yucatan Mexico.   She learned about the Melipona bees and their women keepers. Women of Meso-America and the Yucatán have little opportunity for starting eco-businesses mainly due to low or no income, limited education and resources.

Qualified celebrity judges (14 this year) will taste the honey for quality and flavor. The jars of honey are all unmarked and covered in a black cloth so they are identical in appearance. Photo courtesy of Terri Lechner.
Qualified celebrity judges (14 this year) will taste the honey for quality and flavor. The jars of honey are all unmarked and covered in a black cloth so they are identical in appearance. Photo courtesy of Terri Lechner.

 

Robertson wanted to find a way to help them grow and thrive.  Six months ago she launched MayanMeliponaBee.org, in alliance with Asheville Sister Cities. It is providing bee hive start-ups and training to these Mayan women.The women can then sell this rare and valuable medicinal honey at local markets and abroad, while sustaining ancient Mayan cultural practices and reviving Melipona Bee populations.There is a long history of using honey as medicine with its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties.   Robertson’s dream is to boost severely declining bee populations by bringing bees to 5 villages per year from 2022-2027. 

With funding and infrastructure Robertson would like to create pollinator corridors with sustainable Bee Sanctuaries, preserving traditional cultural practices for the future. Melipona honey will be available in 1 or 2 oz jars at the Festival, but perhaps a spoonful of the honey to taste for a $20 donation will suffice.  Donations of any size are welcome to this 501 (c) (3) sanctuary project. A donation of  $200-$300 will provide one Melipona Bee Hive; $9000 will provide hives, infrastructure & harvesting equipment to accommodate one village.  Robertson has found a “magical connection exists in the world, ” as so many incredible, generous and talented people are contributing to her dream and helping the project blossom, including world famous author and entomologist, Stephen Buchmann, PHD; Linda Go, sound healer and practical mystic; Stephen Stuart, a multimedia producer, Nana Shuni Giron, Mayan Medicine Healer who traveled with her in Mexico, and many others.

Other Activities

Many other vendors too will be at the festival with a large assortment of bee related items for sale—hand cream, lip balm, pottery, beeswax candles, a variety of food items and all sorts of bee related trinkets and fabrics.  There will be tasting stations for the public near the Black Jar Contest, a silent auction with many items and various raffles as well, all to raise money for the continuation of the critical research funded by the Center for Honeybee Research. 

The Center for Honeybee Research

Carl Chesick is Executive Director of the non profit, Asheville-based Center for Honeybee Research, which supports long-term pollinator research. He founded this organization in 2010 and has been hosting global honey competitions in Asheville since 2011.  It has grown larger from year to year. The Renaissance Asheville Hotel, with two hives located on their roof, has long hosted the honey tasting competition and been a financial supporter of the Center for Honeybee Research. Asheville was named the first Bee City USA in June 2012. 

See for previous related article about Bee City USA

The Center for Honeybee Research on their website www.centerforhoneyberesearch.org  says, we are  “a grassroots, educational, research organization founded to collect objective data in an open-sourced, non-proprietary platform for the benefit of researchers, beekeepers, and policy makers — to ensure the survival of the honeybee. This is necessary because honeybee colonies are failing to survive winter as never before in their 50 million year history.  The Center for Honeybee Research exists to provide unbiased data straight from the hives of beekeepers from all over the world, freely available to the public. We are taking the lead in systematically collecting scientific data to give us answers to the pressing issues plaguing the honeybee.

Chesick mentioned that North Carolina is a state with more beekeepers than any other state—-a state with more beekeepers but not the most colonies.  Most are small, not big commercial operations. Beekeepers in Western North Carolina mostly keep bees at home. There are big commercial operations in other states, which are nomadic in that they move their bees around with pollination contracts. Many colonies are loaded onto a truck and driven to California to pollinate the almonds in February, as well as the cherries, raspberries, citrus fruit, and blackberries. The bees are the backbone of major crop pollination. 

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