Raw Honey from Dancing Crane Honey Farm
I'm not obsessed or anything (Honest! I can quit any time!) but whenever I travel to places where honey is made and sold, I can't resist stopping for some local honey. I went to the North Market in Columbus and came home with a jar of honey. I went to Tennessee to visit relatives some years back, and came home with a jar of sourwood honey (and an embarrassing addiction to roadside boiled peanuts, but that's another story). However, Southeast Michiganders don't have to go far to find small production, raw honey. Michigan is the 9th-ranked honey producing state in the US (there are even beekeepers in the U.P., but they have to use reinforced electric fences to keep the bears out — apparently, the stereotypes about bears and honey are true).
A week ago, we attended the Dancing Crane Honey Farm open house at the Ann Arbor home of husband-and-wife owners Dr. John Piette and Joanne Kimata. John grew up helping his Uncle Joe in Wisconsin keep bees. In 2003, he and Joanne founded Dancing Crane. Their bees feast on clover, goldenrod, and wildflower nectar just outside of Ann Arbor on an organic farm and also in the field of a retired couple who were farmers and raised horses. Their honey is raw, unfiltered, and cold-processed. It's been sold to customers on every continent except Australia and Antarctica (so far), but if you live in Ann Arbor you can go pick it up yourselves and save on shipping. And it's really, really good...
John and Joanne's son Jordan explaining how bees build honeycomb on the frames. Each frame already has a honeycomb pattern on it; the bees then extend the comb out from there. If they didn't have the patterns, they'd still build the characteristic hexagonal-grid combs, they'd just build them wherever they felt like it. This is a family activity and the kids know their stuff.
The house was packed with friends and customers. Beekeeping paraphernalia was displayed around the living room. We were drawn immediately to the large dining room table covered with jars of Dancing Crane Honey. Among other things, they had a taste test pitting honey from Dancing Crane (as well as two other SE Michigan-made raw honeys) against a jar of generic Grade A grocery store honey.
It's a very effective demonstration. I went through the samples from left to right as advised by the instructions and without looking at the brand names. Let me say: the taste difference between raw honey and generic pasteurized grocery store honey is immediately obvious. Each of the local raw honeys was full of different floral flavors, beautiful on the tongue, and a pleasure to eat plain or on a cracker. (We did like Dancing Crane's best, but we liked all of them.) By comparison, the grocery store honey I grew up with is insipid and boring. I'm convinced, and I think you will be too if you try it.
Another interesting thing they had was an array of research articles investigating the potential health benefits and medical uses of honey. Both Piette and Kimata work in health care; Piette is a health services researcher. They made a point of supplying an unbiased selection of articles, which we skimmed but don't feel qualified to summarize. For now, let's just say that the evidence suggests that honey is useful in at least some contexts, and I'll see if they'd be willing to compile or point us toward a summary for a future writeup here. One warning, though — while raw honey is a wonderful thing for most, it is not suitable for people who are very young, very old, or have compromised immune systems. (In the meantime, you can find more information about honey and health here.)
Dancing Crane Honey is an all-volunteer farm (they welcome volunteers to help them at the hives as well as during the annual honey harvest), and all revenue beyond operating expenses goes to selected charities. Their honey sells for $7.50 for a one-pound jar, or $20 for three. This year's charities are VNHelp and The Degenhardt Foundation. Past charities include Doctors Without Borders, and Heifer International. They still have honey left this year, but it's going fast. My recommendation: try some. You'll never go back to the generic stuff.
Dancing Crane Honey Farm
Want to know where queen bees come from? Click to see the extended post...
John shows where queen bees come from in 2007 — they're shipped Express Mail! Queens are replaced every two or three years. On an epidemiological note, obtaining queens from a small number of breeders who ship across the entire country increases the potential for bee diseases (including, perhaps, colony collapse disorder) to spread rapidly. The beekeeping community is aware of this risk, and is looking at other options.
A view inside the hive; bees build on each of the frames. Before this type of hive was developed, beekeepers used hollow dome-shaped hives — like you've seen in cartoons — and they had to kill all the bees to get the honey out.