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The first annual NYC Honey Festival, a celebration of the city’s booming beekeeping culture (and the honey that results), went down at the Rockaway boardwalk on September 17th. Despite a surprise shutdown of the A train, and the surprise arrival of a threatening sky, the event was a success – over a thousand people showed up, and all the beekeepers sold all of their honey.

Honey lovers checking out the observation hive at the 1st annual NYC Honey Festival. Photo by Tim O'Neal of Prospect Heights-based Borough Bees.

Organizer Chase Emmons could barely contain himself on the Brooklyn Grange blog, writing, “I seriously still don’t believe how successful that was.”

One of favorite festival anecdotes from Emmons:

“By mid day there were a lot of bees around. Lots of bees, lots of people, you’d think this was going to end badly. But something totally unexpected and wonderful happened. Nobody cared. Well, the kids seemed to care since they started petting the bees that would land on their honey coated finger. But otherwise, we had human and bee attendees, all enjoying the fest and totally accepting of each other.

“The coolest thing was watching the honey tasting contest. We set it up to be crowd source judged. People would come up, take a stick, dip/taste, and go down the line of submissions. Then they would put a mark on the sign for the sample they liked the best. But when they would dip the stick, many times a bee would land on the stick and start sampling too, and people had no problem putting the stick in their mouth, carefully not to disturb the fellow sampler. It was something out of a Disney movie, totally unbelievable. Not one attendee got stung. This will be the big takeaway memory for me of this entire event.”

Emily Vaughn of Slow Food wrote about the Honey Festival and the first year of legalized city beekeeping for Grist. She quotes Tim O’Neal of Borough Bees about his take away from the Festival.

“O’Neal says the event confirmed what he had already begun to suspect: The beekeeping community is expanding and diversifying, virtually overnight. ‘New York is now host to a huge number of organizations, businesses, and individuals who all keep bees and interact with each other and the wider community in increasingly creative and meaningful ways,’ he says.”

The explosion of interest in beekeeping here in New York is good for a lot of reasons – one of which is the growth in access to local honey. Because there are some concerns about mystery honey. Heard of ‘honey laundering?’ According to Food Safety News

“A third or more of all the honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals.  A Food Safety News investigation has documented that millions of pounds of honey banned as unsafe in dozens of countries are being imported and sold here in record quantities.”

Nice. Toxic honey smuggled into the U.S. from China makes up a third or more of the honey consumed here. What makes it worse? Tom Laskawy at Grist explains:

“What’s most concerning is that consumers are limited in their ability to avoid tainted honey, since 65 percent of honey sold in the U.S. goes into processed food. So certainly, you should buy local honey from small producers you trust. And if you can’t find good honey, don’t buy what’s on supermarket shelves. But we’re also at the mercy of food processors’ willingness to ensure the ingredients they put into their products are pure.”

As with just about everything else, it’s good to know something about who’s making what you eat and how it’s being made. So support the growth of the city’s beekeeping culture and go local with your honey!

For a taste of local beekeeping, read our interview with Michael Hedegus of Bed-Stuy’s Three Sisters Honey.

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