Head beekeeper Kelly Anderson of Peter Pratt’s Inn.
Photo courtesy of Peter Pratt’s Inn
An appetite for locally made food and awareness of the importance of bees underpins a rise in popularity for this natural sweetener.
It’s official: County residents are buzzing about locally produced honey. Social media posts this spring swarmed with queries on where to purchase the viscous golden nectar, which many claim helps alleviate seasonal allergies. Interestingly, no scientific studies have proven this, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology’s website.
Consumers are no longer satisfied with the sticky, sweet substance filling those plastic, bear-shaped supermarket squeeze bottles. People are putting hives in their backyards (area companies set up and maintain them, if desired) and joining groups like Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers. MOM’S Organic Market in Dobbs Ferry even sells beekeeping equipment.
“People come in droves for our honey,” says Bri Hart, who’s harvested honey for 18 years at Yorktown Heights’ White Oak Farm. He notes there’s a huge market currently for local products, including honey. “Honey is such a great food,” he says. “Very healthy, rich in carbohydrates, proteins… very good for you.”
“We produce beautiful honey in Westchester,” Hart declares, “because of the diverse flowers available.” He plants lots of bee-friendly clover and shuns pesticides, which may have caused the colony collapse disorder that’s affected bees globally, bringing attention to their crucial importance to our ecosystem.
“All over the country, people are more aware than they were 10–20 years ago of the value of honey bees as pollinators,” observes Christine Lehner, who runs Let It Bee Apiaries with her husband, Charles Branch. “They care about honey in terms of the climate of the environment.”
Beekeepers for 15 years, Lehner and Branch maintain backyard hives in Rye, Bedford, Hastings, and atop New York City’s Whitney Museum. She says customers like their wildflower honey because it is “very fresh. And very local is nice.” They harvest what a friend calls “Champagne honey,” in early spring and a much darker one with goldenrod and jewelweed in fall. Hastings’ Boro6 Wine Bar offers their honey as an addition to its meat-and-cheese board.
“Westchester is a good place to harvest honey because people are interested in it,” Lehner says. She adds that natural honey crystallizes but that “the squeeze stuff you get in the supermarket won’t crystallize because it’s mostly processed sugar water.”
Offering food that is local and unadulterated is important to Tim Lajqi of Peter Pratt’s Inn in Yorktown. He and his family, Yorktown natives, bought the inn they grew up patronizing in March 2020. They’re delighted to continue the spot’s farm-to-table ethos, including beekeeping (the hives were built by Jonathan Pratt’s father in 2011). “We drop it right from the crate to a glass container, then to individual jars,” Lajqi says. They sell the light, floral honey, drizzle it atop a homemade blueberry tart with vanilla ice cream, and incorporate it into their Yorktown salad.
“Everybody likes to have their backyard basically on the table,” says Thomas Breitschwerd of Hudson River Apiaries, who helped his mother keep bees as a child in Germany. He enjoys educating customers and points out that bees generate a better garden, harvest, and bounty.
Breitschwerd uses natural methods (no chemicals) and takes pride in using a cold-extraction technique to ensure the purest taste possible. He maintains more than 100 hives in private yards and public spaces throughout Westchester and Orange County; his buckwheat honey comes from the northern part of the state. He also offers spring clover, earthy pumpkin, and a creamed version at a few local stores and farmers’ markets, including Pleasantville’s, Hastings-on-Hudson’s, and Bronxville’s.
Fly Honey Farms began with the mission “to save the bees and do things of that nature,” says James Pratt, who’s partnered with longtime Hackley School friend Carlo Esannason. They are passionate about caring for the bees and produce their own locally raised ones (some beekeepers import bees from Georgia or California), which they believe thrive better. They also advise home beekeepers and feel the bees repay the care they’re given.
The pair aims to create actionable change in local communities by furnishing access to those who could appreciate quality food and may not have it. They offer a discount to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and are the only state-certified apiary to provide honey to schools. Pratt and Esannason want to teach children and families about the benefits of honey and bees, counteracting stigmas like “bees are scary,” hoping to inspire others as they have been. Says Esannason: “I think that people are becoming more attuned to what it takes to hold a spot on this earth and to take ownership of what they do.”