Buying local is the sweetest honey
This Saturday while my sister Sara was walking the catwalk at Holt Renfrew as a part of a celebrity walk-off and fundraiser for United Way, I was up in Shelburne Ontario.
Shelburne is a small town located about an hour and a half northwest of Toronto, where highway 10 and highway 89 intersect. Although my parents live a little further away in Violet Hill, Shelburne has always been a major part of our life. This is because Violet Hill is a small hamlet, and the only businesses in the little village of Violet Hill are a single restaurant and country store which used to be the school house and church of the original village (which I believe dates back to the 1800’s, but its a little hard to find info on the village on the net). As well as the village, Violet Hill also includes the surrounding farms and subdivisions around it. But it doesn’t include anywhere to buy food, which brings me back to Shelburne.
Here in the city when I want to buy some food, I just lace up my shoes and walk over to the Dufferin Mall. But when I was growing up, getting food meant making that 10 minute drive into Shelburne to go to a grocery store. I used to hate having to do that ride, and because 18 year old me so adamantly never wanted to own a car, and because 18 year old me thought country life was so boring, I moved here.
It’s only recently that I am starting to cultivate an interest in country living, and it has a heck of a lot to do with food actually.
You see, Shelburne and the surrounding areas have always been farming communities. The crops are diverse, and not limited to deer, sheep, and cows, to rhubarb, maple syrup, windpower, and grains and feeds.
Oh, and bees!
My parents have owned the house in Violet Hill for 20 years, when they moved out of the suburbs for a simpler life. The Ireland’s bee farm has been located on the hill on the west side of the village for about 120. The farm caught my eye a few months back, and because the chance to get pure unpasteurized honey from a local Ontario farmer was just too good pass up, we decided to stop in. I guess we were kind of making a day of it, my mom and I. We’d made a drive into Shelburne to drop some things off for the SPCA, and we’d seen the Mennonites on the side of the road selling this season’s fresh maple syrup, which we also bought as a special treat for ourselves.
The real treat though was getting to meet Mr. Ireland. We stepped into the little hut that Mr. Ireland sells the honey out of. It doesn’t look anything like a supermarket in there. There are only few products on sale including the two types honey produced on site. One from a spring harvest which is lighter in flavour and colour, although it’s sweeter than the summer honey which is darker and more full-bodied. The honey comes in a variety of sizes, from a little 1 kg jar to a big 15 kg jug. There are small batch beeswax creams from a farm near Barrie, hand-thrown clay honey from an artisan based in Dundalk, and a couple of Winnie the Pooh honey pots that Mr. Ireland brought back from a trip to Disneyland one year. The hut is always open, and people can feel free to take what products they like and leave the money in a dish on the table.
Mr. Ireland is 78 years old, and he knows his trade very well. Since we seemed enthusiastic about his farm, he showed us a couple of things about his trade, explaining how his honey is unpasteurized because the process of pasteurizing cooks most of the nutrients out of the honey. Raw honey actually contains many amino acids and vitamins. This makes up 70% of what’s in the honey, and the rest is sugar. However when the honey is cooked, the percentages flip.
Mr. Ireland tells us that he is constantly learning new things and taking classes, and his study is not limited to the bees themselves. As well as producing honey, he also breeds bees which he sells all over the world. When the United States began experiencing a decline in the number bees in 2006-2007, his farm sold bees to the States to help recolonize.
What caused this? we asked him, well aware of the bee shortage. A bee shortage which is horrific, because without bees there are almost no fruits and vegetables. Pesticides, he answered, but he also told us that Canada was not really affected. This is because there are only 5 crops that Canada uses pesticides on (one more reason to buy Canadian fruits and veggies), and these are corn, apples, wheat, soy, and canola. But there’s hope, he says, as the US is limiting use on pesticides. In the first year of this program personal use was banned. The second year saw commercial use banned, and agricultural pesticides will be banned for the third year of this program.
His studies have also included extensive learning about the human body. But this isn’t quite as random as it seems as he uses the venom of the bees as a special therapy. He isn’t a medical doctor, so he can’t charge for the service, but he does use the bees to help treat people with arthritis in the community to great success, and even one woman with MS who is now out of her wheelchair and walking again.
I was so amazed with Mr. Ireland, that when I got home I drew the above picture of a honeybee*. Talking to Sara later, she would tell me how cool it was to get to meet Miss J., and it sounded exciting. Maybe I’m getting old, because I felt at least as excited about the bees, and here I am still talking about it 1000 words later. But you know, in a world where every dollar counts as a vote for the type of world we’re going to live in, supporting a well-read, passionate food grower who cares as much about the health of the people he’s feeding as the money he’s making is kind of exciting- a consideration I’ll certainly keep mind as farmer’s market season fast approaches in the city.
*It’s worth noting that I have no talent for biology. All these diagrams are based on existing diagrams, illustrated for biology textbooks and encyclopedias. I justify this appropriation by changing the context of the illustrations, from being teaching aids to being art (a subject I will not get into here). There are of course, stylistic changes that make this very obviously my work. But if this doesn’t satisfy, just think to yourself- What would Richard Prince do?