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> NY Mouth asks all the right questions. May 17 2013, 0 Comments

We just did an e-mail interview with one of our newest customers, New York Mouth, which specializes in small-batch foods. They asked some fun questions, so here's a sneak peak: 

Where did you grow up? I'm a Carolina girl. 

Was food always important to you, or did you develop a passion for food at a particular place and time? The only thing I knew how to make as a child was biscuits, and I always mashed up the Ritz crackers for squash casserole in the summer. Other than that, I never knew how to cook from elemental ingredients until I joined the U.S. Peace Corps. I served in a third-world African country, where I learned to appreciate freshness and simplicity of ingredients.  Everything was made from scratch, and I learned to cook there.  (Sometimes we had crazy Peace Corps parties where the main event would be to roll out and fry our own corn flour chips and then dip them in our own fresh-made guacamole. Our biggest resource was time, so why not?) 

How did you get into beekeeping? My husband, Jeff, grew up near a beekeeper and was fascinated by it. I knew he really wanted to learn how to keep bees but would never take the leap, so I bought him a bee hive for Christmas 10 years ago. He bought me a stand-up bass the same year, for the same reason. 

Tell us about deciding to go into business – How did it happen?  What made it possible? We've been selling our honey at farmers markets (in North Carolina and Tennessee), and the decision to move from that to a larger market was a result of the reception we've received from these marketplaces. Our customers embrace our commitment to purity, our concern about the fate of the honeybee and our emphasis on the ephemeral nature of honey from year to year. To completely answer the question, our customers make it "possible" every day for us to continue our commitment to sustainable American agriculture.

What do you think makes your product stand out in its category? Our honey is unique in that we celebrate the indigenous plants that produce it and we don't manipulate the harvest and nectar flow to produce a singe-source product.  (Single-source varietals are the ones everyone's heard about, like orange blossom, tupelo, etc.). For example, to offer orange blossom honey a beekeeper is likely involved in commercial pollination. While commercial pollination is necessary, especially in these days of big agriculture and bee shortages, trucking bees to an orange (or almond or apple) grove to perform a service, while exposed to pesticides and herbicides, is not healthy for the bees and not a sustainable method of agriculture. 

>>> Our bees are "free-range." 

While the "free-range" thing started as a joke (because who is really going to stop a honeybee from going where it wants to?), it has come to denote a commitment to healthy, natural nectar sources for our bees. We say that our bees forage everything "under the country sun," and it's true. We're lucky enough to live near a small pick-your-own blueberry farm, but, other than that, our bees forage nectar and pollen from various natural sources, from fruit tree blossoms in the spring to pesky clover and herbs in the summer. 

Also, when we do a regional "sampler," we work with beekeepers like us, who have a commitment to healthy bees and the glory of wild, indigenous nectar sources. For example, our Coastal Spring vintage was made by honeybees enjoying the native gallberry plant (in the holly family) that grows wild along the coasts of the Southeast. It's sort of an unsung hero in the bee world — a prolific nectar source that nobody cares enough about to spray for anything! The bees love it, and they're not exposed to harmful pesticides and herbicides while they forage it.

What’s  your favorite part about producing honey? Least favorite part? Favorite part of having a bee farm is going out in the bee yard after sunset in the summer, when it's still light, and watching the light reflect off the bees as they return to the hive. Least favorite = being sticky!  

What do you see as  your biggest challenges? Our biggest challenge right now is combating diseases, such as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), that are affecting honeybees all over the world. Almost everyone has heard of these problems in one way or another, and we're encouraged when we go to markets and festivals and have customers who are sincerely interested in the fate of the honeybee. (We have wonderful, thoughtful customers who are sincerely curious about our trade and how it affects us and our food sources.)  

What is the most interesting part of owning a business like this? The nature of the honeybee is endlessly fascinating. It's interesting to observe how they work together, how they communicate, how they are cranky on windy days and how the queen bee dictates the mood of the hive (mean queen = mean colony). I could go on and on.

Do you have a funny story to share?  This wasn't funny at the time, but early in my beekeeping days I made the mistake of wearing my beautiful, hand-engraved sapphire wedding ring while in the hives. I got stung on the tip of my ring finger and didn't think about it until I got home, but it was too late. My finger looked like a hot dog with a tight silver band around it. (None of the Google remedies for getting rings off worked.) My doctor said that if there was still circulation in the fingertip I'd "probably be ok," so I toughed it out so I wouldn't have to get the ring cut off. The next day the swelling went down a little, but I couldn't get the ring off for a month. So, the moral of the story is: don't wear rings when you're working in the hives. 

Did you have a role model/mentor/inspiration in the small batch field before you got started? If so, who? An old man named Mr. Smith was kind enough to sell us our first bees in NC, then help us get through that first year, which can be overwhelming. (More about that here.) We try to pass his kindness along by helping other beekeepers get started. 

When you’re not producing honey, you are most likely . . . . Spending time with our daughter, who just turned 8. Unfortunately, though, the life of a small business owner is pretty seamless when it comes to work and personal time! Business and home life sort of intermingle ... but I do cut out some time to read and to write a little. 

Favorite way to use/eat your own product:  We couldn't survive without peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and our favorite treat is goat cheese and honey. I take a 4 oz "log" of plain chevre, roll it in chopped pecans, drizzle generously with honey and serve surrounded by thin apple slices (Golden Delicious is my favorite). This is an easy, healthy treat that's also a nice party or cocktail appetizer.