YAKIMA MAGAZINE – HEIDI BURMEISTER – Did you know that honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life? It includes enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it’s the only food that contains “pinocembrin,” an antioxidant associated with improved brain function. It’s also the only food made by an insect that is consumed by humans. These are just a few of the many interesting facts about honey.
But we love honey for other reasons, first and foremost, we love the taste. We eat it with peanut butter on toast, put it in our tea and blend it with other ingredients to add sweet to spicy barbecue sauce. Honey just tastes good and we produce a lot of it. According to Honey.com, United States honey production in 2016 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 162 million pounds — up 3 percent from 2015. There were 2.78 million colonies from which honey was harvested in 2016, up 4 percent from 2015. That’s a lot of sweet honey goodness going on here in the U.S.
Honey bees are fascinating little creatures that play a crucial role in nature’s fragile reproductive system. And they are one of the most important players in the success of local agriculture. Honey bees pollinate many varieties of the fruits we grow in the Valley. Apples, cherries and blueberries would not have the yield they do each year if we just relied on wind alone to pollinate the fruit blossoms. “Using pollinators in an orchard increases the yields by nearly 30 percent,” says Ben Johnson, owner of HolBen Honey.
It’s no wonder that we have many options to buy local honey here in Yakima. This delicious byproduct that comes from commercial beekeepers, who specialize in providing bees for pollination purposes, rather than selling the honey, is in abundance in the Valley. And this is great news for HolBen Honey of Yakima. They have a true appreciation for local honey, and while they do have hives of their own, they also take the byproduct from other beekeepers all over the area and bottle delicious local honey in many flavors, ranging from wildflower to blueberry and soon, pumpkin.
The owners of HolBen Honey are husband and wife Ben and Holly Johnson, who live off Ahtanum road in Yakima. They purchased a beautiful turn-of-the-century home and farm last year and are growing their HolBen honey business on their property. I spent a glorious September afternoon with them and their five children, learning about honey bees, beekeeping, honey, hives and the plans they have for the future of their business.
Ben has been passionate about beekeeping and local honey for some time. So much so, that he spent two and a half years working at Olson Honey, a commercial honey and bee pollination company that has been in business for about 41 years. There he learned the ropes of beekeeping, pollinating crops and producing honey. He also found many mentors and resources to help him as he got started with his own honey business.
Though Ben works full-time as an equipment operator, he is focused on his business extracting and selling the byproduct, honey, that he acquires from local honey bee pollination businesses. But HolBen Honey has another niche and that is to assist other honey bee hobbyists get started with their hives. This part of their business has become very rewarding and has been the main focus of the company this year. The joy they get from helping others learn about and produce their own honey has been well worth a few setbacks in their immediate plans for growth.
When you visit the HolBen Honey website, they share that their love of honey comes from all the beneficial properties found in it. And as you read in the first paragraph, those benefits are many. Consuming raw, unpasteurized, local honey can aid in problems with allergies, helping to build an immunity to the pollens. Ben’s wife Holly, who is a part-time nurse at Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital and homeschools their children, is grateful for all the benefits that honey provides their family, especially during cold season. Their honey helps to relieve sore throats and coughs and can also help heal wounds topically. With a family of seven, you can imagine that they go through a lot of honey. And as Holly said, “I always tell families that if they use a lot of honey, it’s well worth having your own hives.”
I asked Ben and Holly about their goals. So far, they are very happy to have grown their business at the organic pace that they have. But they do have plans and one is to provide local honeycombs. These are not readily found as there is a complex process involved in preparing the honeycomb for consumption. But they are amazing and delicious. Ben and Holly generously let me take a spoonful so I could experience eating a raw honeycomb and it was amazing. You get a little of the bee’s wax with the honey, so there is texture and once you absorb all of the delightful honey you can swallow the wax or simply discard it.
HolBen Honey is available at several local businesses including Sundance Espresso in Selah, Margaret’s Apple Cart Deli in Naches and the Nest in Yakima to name a few. They also deliver to various areas as well as ship. You will find their honey in an array of flavors, in various jar sizes and also squeezable pouches, making it easy to get every last golden drop from your HolBen honey purchase.
You can find HolBen Honey online at http://www.holbenhoney.com/
and you can also follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/holbenhoney
for more information on new products and retail locations.
Photos by: Kaspar Megert, Getty Images