Honey, Bees, and Pollinators
by Martha Jackson Suquet
Farmer Skip Hobbs likes to sit with a glass of wine in the evening and watch his livestock. Not pigs rooting around or sheep grazing, though—he's watching his honeybees as they fly in and out of his hives, legs packed with pollen. Hobbs, who farms at Mountain Falls Farm in Sheffield, describes beekeeping as “a mostly enjoyable, sometimes frustrating enterprise, and a lot of work.” According to the Bee Conservancy, honeybees “are considered super-organisms due to their complex social systems and dynamic, tight-knit interactions with one another and their environments”. Hobbs describes the bees’ complex social structure with admiration: each colony has “nurse bees that take care of the eggs and larva; undertaker bees that remove dead bees; guard bees that protect the hive from intruders; worker bees that forage for pollen, nectar and water; and a construction team that builds out the hive”. Bees are so important for certain crop pollination that larger-scale farmers will often rent honeybee colonies during the key flowering season. (Pictured is Skip Hobbs checking hives at Mountain Falls Farm, Sheffield, MA.)
Like any other livestock farmers, beekeepers provide shelter for their colonies and keep an eye out for health issues. The bees, in turn, pollinate nearby crops and produce sweet honey, while their intricate social lives fascinate and entertain their keepers. Kelli Fahey, of Fahey Family Honey Farm, says that a “fascination with the inner workings of the hive” first drew her to beekeeping, noting that honeybees have many little-known habits. For instance, they cluster to together for warmth inside the hive over winter instead of hibernating and take “cleansing flights” (aka bathroom breaks) on warmer days.
The beekeepers Berkshire Grown spoke to described several challenges to keeping bees happy and healthy. Colonies can swarm and leave the hive if conditions aren’t right or if the colony gets too big, and hives sometimes run out of food over the winter and die off. And, as much as humans all love an early spring, warmer early spring weather can cause bees to come out too early, before enough flowers have bloomed to feed them.
Bees produce honey by harvesting flower nectar, then regurgitating the nectar into special cells in their hive, and finally, fanning the cells with their wings to evaporate water. For humans, honey is more than just a tasty sweetener – it has a long history of medicinal use. Used both internally and externally, enzymes in honey have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. When you buy locally, you’re likely to get raw honey rather than pasteurized. Kelli and Antoine Fahey at Fahey Farm, whose honey products are raw, point out that raw honey retains “its natural flavor as well as all its health benefits.” Researchers have found evidence of humans using honey and potentially beginning to keep bees as early as 9,000 years ago. To learn more, read this Smithsonian Magazine article for details about how anthropologists used beeswax residue to determine human-bee interaction. (Above images courtesy of Fahey Family Honey Farm, Pownal, VT.)
How to use all of that tasty local honey? While it’s great in tea—or eaten straight off a spoon—honey is an incredibly versatile ingredient. Farmer Mario Gagliardi of Woodlife Ranch likes to use it in a salad dressing (see his recipe below) and adds it to hot toddies in the winter. Honey is also used to make mead, a fermented honey beverage sometimes mixed with cider or herbs—check out Green River Ambrosia’s variety of meads, many made with local honey.

The decline of bee populations, both honeybees and native bees, has brought renewed focus to their importance as pollinators, and has spurred action on an individual and community level. Pesticides intended for other insects can harm bees, while habitat destruction reduces their available food sources. Parasitic mites, like the varroa mite, are also a constant threat to bee health.
In 2016, Great Barrington became the first municipality in New England to pass a Pollinator-Friendly Community Resolution. The resolution encourages all town residents and businesses to avoid using insecticides and to plant pollinator-supporting plants. That same year, Massachusetts began drafting a state-wide Pollinator Protection Plan. Mario Gagliardi of Woodlife Ranch says that while honey was a motivator in starting to keep bees, he and his farm partners also wanted to do their part to combat the decrease in bee populations. The Berkshire Conservation District works to support communities seeking to implement pollinator-friendly policies and assists farmers in adding pollinator-friendly habitats to their properties. (Image courtesy Woodlife Ranch, Williamstown, MA.)

In terms of pollination, native bee species (along with many wasps, flies, butterflies and hummingbirds) are incredibly valuable. Massachusetts is home to nearly 400 native bee species, including bumblebees, mason bees, mining bees, carpenter bees, and sweat bees. They might not give us honey, but they play a key role in a healthy ecosystem. Many of the threats to honeybees affect these bee populations as well.
How can you support beekeepers and wild bees?

  • Buy local honey to support your local beekeepers. Berkshire Grown can help you find local farms and farmers markets offering honey.

  • Plant bee-friendly gardens—grow flowers that attract bees and bloom at different times of the year, and avoid using pesticides. This guide from UMass lists many native pollinator-supporting plants and offers tips on creating pollinator gardens.

  • Create habitats for native bees—see this how-to for a simple mason bee “hotel”.
Honey Mustard Salad Dressing (courtesy of Mario Gagliardi, Woodlife Ranch):

1/3 cup yellow mustard
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground sage
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and add to your favorite salad.
It's Pick-Your-Own Season:
Berries, Summer Fruits, Vegetables and More

The month of June ushers in the cool early season for pick your own (PYO) strawberries, followed by the warmth of July for you to pick baskets of blueberries and other summer fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Explore the Berkshires and meet your local farmers while you taste your way around the region.
Image courtesy Thomson-Finch Farm, Ancram, NY

Strawberries are available now and picking is generally good through he second week of July, soon to be followed by cherries, blueberries, aronia, raspberries and more. Several farms offer PYO flowers, too.

Be sure to call or check websites for picking conditions before you venture out. And after you pick all those luscious fruits nad fresh vegetables, remember to thank your farmer!
PYO at these Berkshire Grown local farms.

750 Wiltsie Bridge Road, Ancram, NY
PYO organic strawberries NOW through 2nd week of July. Blueberries: July through August. NOFA NY Certified Organic. Call 518 329-7578 for hours & availability. Visit thompsonfinch.com.

15589 New York 22, Stephentown, NY
Strawberries in early summer, blueberries and raspberries in mid- to late summer. Visit theberrypatch.net.

246 Skyline Trail, Middlefield
Blueberries and raspberries after July 1. Call ahead for availability. Open Tues-Sun 9am-4pm. Visit blueheavenblueberries.com.
358 East St., Mount Washington, MA
Located 1/2 mile north of Mount Everett Reservation. Organic blueberries. Hours subject to change. Call 413-528-1479 or check Facebook for current picking conditions.

502 Bug Hill Road, Ashfield, MA
Organic black currants, black raspberries, blueberries, fall high tunnel raspberries, aronia, elderberries. Visit bughillfarm.org for picking availability.

453 Main Street, Becket, MA
Raspberries. Call for details. Offering CSA and SNAP benefits. Visit gaetanosorganicfarm.com.
94 Old Cheshire Road, Lanesborough, MA
Sweet cherries & tart cherries, red & black raspberries, red currants and blueberries (mid July to August). Visit lakevieworchard.com.

Mountain Pasture Farm
818 Surriner Road, Becket, MA
Certified organically grown wild blueberries, cultivated blueberries. Organic apples possible, call 413-623-6455 ahead for availability.

45 Old Cheshire Rd, Lanesborough, MA
Strawberry picking NOW. 8am-4pm daily, weather permitting and subject to change without notice. On Facebook.
5 Sunset Avenue, Kinderhook, NY
Strawberries, rhubarb and peas NOW, followed by cherries, summer squash, blueberries, cucumbers, black raspberries, kale and peaches.

551 North Main Street, Lanesborough, MA
Season begins in July for blueberries, raspberries, black raspberries, zinnias and sunflowers. Containers for berries available, cash or credit accepted. On Instagram.

686 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, MA
Pick your own blueberries late June through mid-August. Visit windyhillfarminc.com.
PYO organic black currants, black raspberries, blueberries, aronia, elderberries, and high tunnel raspberries in the fall, all at Bug Hill Farm in Ashfield, MA. And meet farm dog Elsie!

Need more information?
Use Berkshire Grown's Find Food and Farms searchable map.
Berkshire Grown's

Every time you buy directly from a local farmer, you eat the freshest farm products and you support local agriculture as a vital part of the Berkshires economy.
This 2022 Guide to Local Food & Farms is the region’s most comprehensive guide to local farms, farmers markets, and restaurants offering local foods - use it to find farm stands, CSA farms, pick-your-own farms and orchards, as well as locally sourced value-added products like charcuterie, preserves, and fermented foods and locations and hours of food pantries spread across the county. Within these pages and online at BerkshireGrown.org/Find-Food-and-Farms, you will find descriptions, addresses, and a detailed map.

Keep your Guide to Local Food & Farms handy and use it frequently!
Want to learn more about Juneteenth, the Broken Promise of “40 Acres and a Mule, and Reparations to Black-Indigenous farmers?
Start here, and read more on your own, too.

Curious about what reparations to Black-Indigenous Farmers might look like? Learn more from the National Black Food and Justice Alliance here, and study a reparations map from Soul Fire Farm here.

In 2020 The National Farmers Union posted an informative piece about the broken promise of 40 Acres and a Mule. Read it here.

Annette Gordon-Reed’s book On Juneteenth provides a historian’s view of the country’s long road to Juneteenth, recounting both its origins in Texas and the enormous hardships that African-Americans have endured in the century since, from Reconstruction through Jim Crow and beyond.

Songs to believe in: A Juneteenth playlist from NPR. Listen here.
What We Are Reading:

A Farmer Holds On, a Fraying Lifeline for a Besieged Corner of Ukraine
By Carlotta Gall, The New York Times
Photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly
“My nerves are cracking,” said Oleksandr Chaplik, a farmer who has kept his corner of Ukraine linked to the outside world.
One of the few civilians still driving on a road leading toward the battle front, Oleksandr Chaplik skidded to a stop and leaned out the car window to swap information with a villager.

He was taking supplies back to his village, one of a handful still in Ukrainian hands that lie in the path of the Russian advance.

“We are surrounded on all sides,” said Mr. Chaplik, 55, a dairy and livestock farmer. “It is the second month without light, without water, without gas, without communication, without the internet, without news. Basically, horror.”
“But people need to eat,” he said. “I am a businessman. So I am doing my job.”
Mr. Chaplik owns about 75 acres of land near the city of Sievierodonetsk, where Russian and Ukrainian troops have been battling for control in heavy street fighting in recent days. The countryside around his farm is under almost constant bombardment by Russian forces trying to encircle the easternmost Ukrainian forces and lay siege to Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.

The roar of multiple rocket launcher systems being fired south of the farm rattled the windows and doors of his home. “Don’t worry, those are Ukrainian,” he said as he gave a tour of his farm. “Here, thank God, the guys are holding firm.”

But the war has come dangerously close. Craters from bombs and artillery shells scar his fields. Leaning against the wall of one of his barns stood the casings of a dozen rockets that Mr. Chaplik had collected from around the farm. The rockets delivered cluster bombs, he said, which still littered his hayfields.
Read the entire article here.
How ‘Fairy Tale’ Farms Are Ruining Hudson Valley Agriculture
Farmers are losing properties to wealthy buyers from the city, while leasing land from the new owners can feel like a “modern-day feudal system.”

By Elizabeth G. Dunn, The New York Times. Photograph by Gabby Jones.
As first-time livestock farmers, Maddie Morley and Benjamin Roberts had beaten the odds in a profession that is often expensive and grueling for those starting out.
They were making a profit selling their pasture-raised meats, and the next step was to buy a permanent home for their business, Grass + Grit Farm. But then the pandemic hit, followed by a rush of wealthy urbanites seeking fresh-air retreats in bucolic settings.

Their affordable lease in New Paltz, N.Y., negotiated in 2015 with the help of a farming nonprofit, had just ended, and they were suddenly thrust into a market where buyers were paying above asking price. “Folks who were trying to leave the city were making all-cash offers,” Ms. Morley recalled.

The Hudson Valley is a prime agricultural region stretching from New York City to Albany, N.Y., home to an eclectic mix of tractor dealerships, twee specialty food shops, dollar stores and high-end furniture boutiques. It has long been a popular destination for second-home buyers in search of a pastoral lifestyle. But since the pandemic, demand for properties there, especially farms, has surged.

The median listing price for farms, ranches and undeveloped land in Columbia County, an agricultural stronghold in the heart of the Hudson Valley, shot up 62 percent between January 2020 and January 2022, according to data from Realtor.com. Rental homes are also pricier, in part because so many of them have become Airbnbs, a mounting crisis for both farmhands and beginning farmers who don’t have places to live. A recent one-bedroom rental unit in Coxsackie, N.Y., in neighboring Greene County, drew over 260 inquiries and 130 applications, said Tracy Boomhower, a local real estate agent.

As a result, farmers are getting squeezed out. Some have tried leasing land from owners new to the area, but those alliances are more challenging than they might appear, farmers said, since many of the new owners don’t know what it takes to run a farm.

Read the entire article here.
America’s Most Luxurious Butter Lives to Churn Another Day
Animal Farm Creamery, one of the most highly regarded small dairies in America, was nearly lost. Then, a young couple down the road stepped in.

By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
A pioneer of American buttermaking. Diane St. Clair recently retired and sold her business, Animal Farm Creamery, and her herd of Jersey cows to her neighbors. Credit. Hilary Swift for The New York Times

In a wooden barn perched on a grassy hill, some of the most celebrated cows in the dairy business — the bovine royal family of American fancy butter — sampled hay in their new abode.

Diva, the bossiest of the group, hovered regally over the shy, gentle Cinnamon. Lying down were Ruby and Lacy, who were chewing cud over their folded forelegs. Rutabaga, May and Patch ruminated impassively as Dell peed, effusively, in greeting.

A few months earlier, in February, the herd’s former owner, Diane St. Clair, loaded them onto a trailer and drove them seven miles down the road from her Animal Farm Creamery in Orwell, Vt., to Rolling Bale Farm in Shoreham, a 100-acre organic property nestled into a clearing about an hour south of Burlington.
“That was a hard day,” Ms. St. Clair said. “But there was no way for me to continue.”

Ms. St. Clair had spent the previous 22 years making the most sought-after small-batch cultured butter in the United States. It’s the same butter that the chef Thomas Keller serves at the French Laundry and Per Se — and that retails for an eye-popping $60 per pound.

But at 65, she was ready to retire. Decades of twice-daily milking, barn mucking and hoisting 70-pound jugs of fresh milk into the butter churn had taken a toll on her back. Her husband, Al Clarisse, a large-animal veterinarian who was her only helper, had developed knee problems. And although her heart still clung to her cherished Jersey cows (her “other family,” as she called them), her creative urges had shifted from butter to a new, more sedentary, but just as aromatic, passion: blending exclusive perfumes.

The question was, would she be able to find the right people to take on her treasured herd and her churn? Or would her extraordinary butter, with its subtle nutty, grassy flavors that changed with the seasons, simply disappear?

Read the entire article here.
Are you ready for summer? Shop the local harvest at Berkshire Farmers Markets!

To find fresh locally grown food and local food products, shop at a Berkshire farmers market all season long. Visit berkshiregrown.org for dates, locations and details. Find updates about indoor and outdoor farmers markets throughout the year at BerkshireFarmersMarkets.
Berkshire Grown connects you with local farmers, restaurants, and food producers. DONATE TODAY to celebrate local farms and food, sustain our Berkshire food economy, and Keep Farmers Farming! Support your favorite local eating establishment.
  To pay via check or phone, make payable to Berkshire Grown, mail to:
PO Box 983, Great Barrington, MA 01230 or call (413) 528-0041.
Contributions are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
Stay in Touch

Berkshire Grown's e-newsletter comes out monthly. 
Please send information to  buylocal@berkshiregrown.org.
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Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Jordan Archey, Program Manager, Business Members
Kate Burke, Program Manager, Farm to Food Access
Martha Jackson Suquet, Winter Farmers Market Manager
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Membership and Office Manager
Join Berkshire Grown here.