"Created by Artisans. Bottled by Humans."

That’s the tagline of Just Bee Apiary, a micro-local honey enterprise operating in the Triangle region of North Carolina. The brainchild of founder and “head bee nerd” Marty Hanks, Just Bee aims to use honey as a means to reconnect people with the ecology of the community they call home.

Of course “micro-local” isn’t necessarily anything new when it comes to small-scale honey production. It’s true that industrial honey is often blended from honeys harvested in wildly differing geographic locations, with some U.S. producers even secretly sourcing honey from China in a process sometimes referred to as “honey laundering”. But many smaller beekeepers already harvest and bottle honey from a single bee yard, meaning that their honey is produced exclusively from the nectar and pollen that is found growing in the specific bioregion they happen to call home.

Connecting community through honey

What makes Just Bee’s vision a little different is that they plan to use the inherently local nature of single origin honey to connect the dots between the locations of honeybee colonies and the human communities that surround them.

Here’s how Marty Hanks describes the vision:

“What we think we know about where we live (home) is an incomplete story! Through our five senses we interpret the world. We can see, touch, smell and hear everything around us and that is how we currently understand what home is, but collectively what home TASTES like has eluded us until now. I paired the honeybee's foraging area of 3-5 miles with the knowledge that they can gather nectar and pollen from hundreds of natural flora sources that are unique to a specific community.”

Honey from Just Bee Apiary

A successful track record in business

Hanks already has a track record in think-outside-the-box business, having founded his own successful construction business, Sweat Equity Construction or SEC. SEC allows homeowners to use their own labor on DIY and home repairs, working alongside professionals to hone their own skills. Having built the business, however, Hanks stumbled across beekeeping as both a hobby and a means to relax. Here’s how he describes his introduction to the craft:

“This really just started out as a hobby. We bought some land, planted some gardens, and having read about the plight of honeybees, wanted to keep a few hives to do my part for pollinators. But it's a life-altering experience to open up a colony with 60,000 honeybees inside. Other than observing childbirth, there isn't much to compare to the feeling of reaching into a hive barehanded and interacting with these amazing creatures.”

Beekeeping as a gateway drug
Soon Marty was hooked. He became involved in the local beekeeping club. He started posting daily on Facebook about issues facing honeybees. (Disclosure: Marty is a friend of mine. I have endured many a rant about the dangers of neonicotinoid pesticides, or the unique communication systems of honeybee colonies.) As he learned more about the way bee colonies operate, he realized there was an opportunity to use bees as a lens for broader environmental education and community building:

“We tend to think that everywhere is pretty much the same these days, especially within a particular region. But the environment around us varies from town-to-town, county-to-county, and even from one field or garden to the next. By highlighting the different tastes and textures of honey from different communities, we can remind ourselves to look around and really see the world around us for what it is — a remarkable treasure of biodiversity.”

Expanding the vision

Just Bee has already been selling honey blends gathered from communities around the Triangle, including Orange County honey, Chatham County honey, and Saxapahaw honey, each with a very distinct color and flavor.

With hives located on farmland, gardens and even rooftops of businesses in town, Just Bee hopes to create honeys that really act as a blueprint or snapshot of the local flora, sampling them at the local farmers markets, and using them as an opportunity to discuss the crisis in honeybees; the importance of local biodiversity and, of course, the nature of what we call home.

The next step in Hanks’ plan is to take the blends on the road, holding a Hometown Honey Taste-off in five different communities – and he’s looking to the community around him to help make it happen. He has launched a 30-day crowdfunding campaign via Indiegogo, seeking to raise $9,700 to add 20 new hives and colonies; purchase some crucial labor-saving equipment; and print educational materials. Funders will receive a wide variety of rewards, including ongoing discounts on honey purchases; limited-edition boxed sets of Hometown Honey; “bee-hind” the scenes tours of the apiary (like most beekeepers, Marty likes a bad pun or two); your name engraved on a hive stand; packets of wildflower seeds and more. But the biggest reward, says Marty, is in helping to ensure the future of our food system:

“One in three bites of food we eat every day are possible because of the pollination work these girls do. They pollinate 60 percent of the seed stock that goes to growing our food. They pollinate our cotton crops; which in turn increase crop yield and seeds, which leads to lower cost for textile raw materials. Their pollination of clover and alfalfa feedstock means the meat we buy is cheaper. It seems almost silly to ask 'what’s in it for us?' We have no choice but to support bees or face the consequences. Hopefully Hometown Honey Taste-offs will help drive that point home.”

For more information and to support Just Bee Apiary and the Hometown Honey Taste-off, visit the Indiegogo campaign.

Just Bee Apiary Hometown Honey Taste Off Fundraiser from Haley Dona on Vimeo

Read about other innovators and ideas at The Leaderboard. If you have a story suggestion for this year-long project, please contact us.

Related on MNN:

How bees can create a sense of community
Just Bee Apiary founder Marty Hanks says bees offer a new sensory definition of home, and he's launched the Hometown Honey Taste-off to prove it.