Think of the beehive as a singular animal, Dustin Vanasse co-owner with his spouse, Grace Vanasse, of Bare Honey tells me. The individual bee is like a cell of the body programmed to work its own specific task. As the bee ages, which is measured in days rather than years, its duty changes. The beehive is a complex, highly developed, social animal that brings us a wide variety of consumable honey, as well as pollen, beeswax, propolis and more.
Bare Honey bees enjoy the luxury of the craftsmanship of a Warré hive, a stable habitat, and chemical-free living both in their food sources and living environment. These three features form the basis of Bare Honey’s distinctively nutritious product.
Bare Honey bees live in a hive designed over a hundred years ago by French apiarist, Abbé Émile Warré. The hive mimics a hollowed out tree, a common location for a beehive in nature. Vanasse likens its style to a Winnie-the-Pooh hive. A particular aspect of this hive is the low-maintenance it requires. It’s also self-regulating, which suits the Vanasses’ hands-off approach to apiary-farming.
Vanasse, former chef trained at Cordon Bleu, explains, “As with every animal husbandry, some [farmers] are good, some not. Most bee keepers respect their animal and the natural world. They treat their livestock with dignity. We treat our bees humanely in a low stress environment.”
It’s been said that one out of every three bites of food we eat is courtesy of the hard-working pollinator. Honey bees make up a majority of those pollinators. At least three-fourths of all flowering plants need help transferring pollen from the anther to the stigma. This is the work of the pollinator. The results of their labor are the fruits and vegetables of the food we eat. Because of the farming methods employed by many large farms, bees are often moved by semi-trailer to crops that need pollinating. However, these migratory hives cause stress. Microsporidia is a disease that affects the gut of the bee and causes flu-like response. To combat that illness, antibiotics are often used.
Bare Honey avoids these situations by supporting an environment rich in the foods bees like and by keeping their hives in a stable location. When domesticated farm animals live with little to no stress, they produce a better product whether that’s eggs, milk or honey.
Vanasse explains that the United States imports at least 60 percent of its honey annually. Unfortunately, some of these countries produce honey tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals. Also, some countries compromise the benefits of pure honey by adding syrups or sweeteners. Vanasse thinks the integrity of pure honey could be strengthened through federal government regulations. Currently, the USDA only requires country of origin labeling to carry the USDA grade marks, not an official inspection.
Beyond the problem of inadequate regulation, the fact of using chemicals on bee and bee products is problematic. Vanasse says, “The bees live on the food so if you apply pesticides they end up directly in the food that’s collected for consumption.”
Bare Honey manages their hives without chemical use. The breed of bee they use is Heritage Variety from Russia, which is naturally resistant to Varroa Destructor mite. This mite is a tic that feeds on the blood of the bees particularly the pupal bees that are sealed inside a wax cell as the bees develop from a larva to an adult bee. It passes pathogens when the bees are in their winter habitat. Once a bee is infected, the mite spreads rampant through the bee population. Bare Honey’s Heritage Variety of Russian bees have behaviors, such as grooming, that resist mites. Vanasse emphatically states that he hates to lose a single bee. In Minnesota last year, almost 50 percent of bees in each colony died, Bare Honey didn’t have that happen. “On average, we lose about 12 percent every winter,” says Vanasse, which is far lower than the nation industry standard. Running strong with 300 colonies scattered throughout Minnesota, Bare Honey, a commercial apiary, yet remains a family business. Dustin and Grace Vanasse run the operation while raising their two young children. His grandfather raised bees and Vanasse returned to his love of bees and honey after traveling and working as a chef in kitchens throughout the world.
“One day, I was at a fellow apiarist’s place and I opened up a hive and I realized I wanted to be doing bees more than food,” Vanasse says.
Susan Budig, also known as The Mindful Poet, writes as a
music journalist, feature writer and news journalist for local
newspapers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her poetry appears
in “Writers Digest;” “Music & Vision;” “Classical Poets;”
Thirteen Blackbirds Poetry blog; Art & Earth arts blog, and
“Friends of the Arts” newsletter. Find her poetry on her blog