Bee Conservation

This blog post is written by Tom Bench from Hollow Tree Honey.

My introduction to real honey began with my first beehive. I kept a hive on the top of a hill behind my grandmother’s house. I’d open up the hive weekly filled with fascination for the bees and hopes of an epic honey harvest. I’d heard that a hive could produce over 100 lbs. of surplus honey, but it was a much smaller amount that changed my entire perception of honey and the course of my life. During an inspection in the late spring, I snuck a taste of honey under my protective veil and the flavors and aroma were like nothing I had ever experienced before. You could taste the delicate flavors from the variety of flowers the bees were gathering nectar from. As the season continued, I noticed the honey from the spring was light and sweet while the fall honey was darker and had a richer kind of sweetness.

After a decade of beekeeping and bottling honey, the most frequent question I get is “How are the bees doing?” It’s usually followed by a comment like “I don’t see that many bees in my yard anymore.” It’s true, bee populations have been declining while the demand for their pollination continues to increase. There are about 100 food crops that are dependent on bee pollination.

Almonds, apples, peaches, broccoli, blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cherries, squashes, melons, cranberries, and many others rely on bees for pollination. What would be left in the produce section of the grocery stores if bees were not around to pollinate? Think root vegetables and anything wind pollinated like corn. So since our early days at the farmers’ markets we’ve been involved in promoting the health of our local bees. Here are three simple things you can do to help the bees!

It couldn’t get any easier to support the bees than by enjoying the golden sweet nectar they gather. When you support small local honey producers you are allowing them to continue being stewards of the bees.

There is an enormous amount of work that goes into every jar of honey. A single bee will make about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. So it takes the life’s work of about 2,000 bees to produce a pound of honey. They visit about 2 million flowers and travel a cumulative 50,000 miles in order to make that pound of honey. So lick your spoon/knife when you’re done spreading honey on your favorite treat so that every drop is enjoyed.

Besides tasting absolutely delicious, honey also has medicinal benefits. Research has confirmed that raw honey is more effective at reducing inflammation and suppressing coughing for colds in children versus over the counter cold medicine. Honey naturally produces a peroxide or compound that is antibacterial. So in addition to cough and colds it is also used to treat and heal 1st degree burns in the hospitals.

While there are dozens of questions you could ask a beekeeper to give you insights on the quality of their honey there are two that will tell you most of what you need to know. The first is if the honey is heated during the harvesting and bottling process. Heat degrades the flavor and nutrients of the honey. Hollow Tree Honey is never heated and contains all of the flavors, nutrients, enzymes, and probiotics that are naturally found in the honey. You’re likely to also find this quality of honey at farmers’ markets or from a backyard beekeeper in your neighborhood.

The second question to ask is where their hives are located. Many Utah companies get their honey from the surrounding states because Utah is not a big honey producer. Hollow Tree Honey is harvested from hives located in Utah County, Davis County, and Summit County. In some cases our hives are a couple miles from the grocery stores we sell our honey in!

2. Plant Flowers

Bees need flowers to gather nectar and pollen to be healthy and raise the next generation of pollinators. That’s why we give a packet of wildflower seeds when our customers buy a jar of honey. The mix of flowers creates a steady stream of blooming flowers so the bees will always have nectar and pollen to support them.

The toughest time for bees in Utah is in the heat of the summer. When the spring flowers fade and the mountains and hills turn brown, it leaves little for the bees to eat. I’ve seen them bring back the red nectar in hummingbird feeders due to the lack of flowers blooming in the summer. So the most critical time to fill the gap of available food is to plant flowers that bloom during July and August. Lavender is a great perennial to plant that will produce nectar during this time. You can find a full list of bee feeding plants in an article written by USU’s Bee Lab.

3. Give Them a Roof Over Their Heads

The bees need habitat to raise baby bees. The best way to do this is actually not to become a backyard beekeeper. Honeybees are only one species of bees in the Beehive State. There are over 900 species of what are called native bees or solitary bees. They come in all shapes, colors, and sizes and are vital for pollination. They mostly live in sandy locations in the ground or in small straw like cavities. They are called solitary bees because they do not live in large colonies like honey bees, they are single bees that build a “nest” in a hollow tube or they dig a tunnel in the ground. So one easy way to promote native bee habitat is by leaving an area of your yard bare. It’s best for this place to get plenty of sun to help the bees stay warm. The other way to create habitat is to put up a native bee nesting box in your yard. This is just a box that is filled with hollow tubes or reeds that the bees will lay eggs in. The diameter of the inside can vary from ⅜ of an inch to 1/16 of an inch. The different sizes will attract different bee species.

One of the best parts is that the bees are considered stingless. They do not have a huge food resource to defend and so they are very docile. Although they do have the ability to sting, it is extremely rare and many researchers work with them throughout their careers and never get stung. I’ve enjoyed watching the Mason orchard bees and leafcutter bees throughout the season make my little nesting box their home. You’ll be amazed at how quickly these nesting sites get colonized. A single box can provide enough habitat for several hundred bees to be born. Your garden and the surrounding area will be thoroughly pollinated.

John Muir said it best, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” My interest in bees and honey lead to my understanding of how important honeybees are to our food system. I then discovered the thousands of species of native bees and the vital role they all play in pollinating our food and flowering crops. I hope you’ll do something this season to help our local bees because your backyard is the key to a thriving bee population. If we all do a little, the impact will be enormous and we can reverse the decline of our treasured pollinators.

Tom joined the Taste of Harmons Podcast recently to talk about bees, and you can listen to that here.

Tom Bench grew up in the Sandy, Utah and studied Environmental and Sustainability Studies at the University of Utah. He was most interested in the environmental benefits (and taste) of local food. In 2012 he began keeping bees and was obsessed with the complicated social structure of bees and how amazing fresh honey from his hive tasted. He founded the University of Utah Beekeepers in 2013, which created a resource for students and faculty to observe honeybees and learn how to care for them. That same year Tom started Hollow Tree Honey. He began by selling at local farmer’s markets and eventually moved into local grocery stores as the only unheated and unfiltered honey. Local bee conservation has always been at the heart of the company’s mission. With every jar purchased, Hollow Tree Honey gives a packet of pollinator plant seeds away for customers to plant and feed the bees. 

In 2018 he founded the Hollow Tree Honey Foundation to increase local bee populations through community workshops. So far, over a thousand people have attended native bee box workshops and they have helped several hundred people build and install native bee boxes that create habitats for local bees. He currently lives in Sandy with his wife and three young children. 

Food for a Sustainable Future

It can sometimes feel like Earth Day, April 22, gets overlooked or pushed aside, and yet the day is extremely important, especially for a sustainable future. Here at Harmons, Kate Whitbeck, director of sustainability, thinks about the earth every day, and pretty much all day.

Her job at Harmons is to help us reach our goals as a sustainable company, keeping in mind all the ways we do take steps to be earth-friendly, and bringing up places where we can do better.

Harmons Believes in Being Green

Harmons has always focused on being green, creating a cardboard recycling program in 2000; a food waste diversion program in 2008; and a food rescue program in 2010, among other things. In 2020 we recycled 3,270 tons of cardboard. That means 55,590 trees didn’t have to die.

We also have a food rescue program, donating edible food to the Utah Food Bank. Unlike many other grocers, Harmons pulls fresh food from the shelf before its expiration date, so that it won’t be sold close to its expiration, and will offer fresher nutrient content for all the Utah families it feeds.

Through our food waste diversion program we send tons of food—around 2725 tons a year—to an animal feed operation, or an anaerobic digester that turns the waste into pipeline grade natural gas.

Kate Whitbeck checks out food waste headed to an anaerobic digester that will turn it into natural gas. 

Solar Panels, LED Lighting, Compostable Packaging and More

Kate talks about other ways we are working for a green, sustainable future, such as using LED lighting in our new stores and solar panels on the roof of our Santa Clara store, which provides 40 percent of the store’s electricity. Our Mountain View and Traverse Mountain stores have sky lights to take advantage of natural light, which means less electricity is used.

With today’s knowledge on the troubles with plastics in landfills and oceans, it’s good to know that Harmons is looking for a way to use compostable packaging whenever possible. We even use bowls made from fiber-based sugarcane in our Kitchen, and paper straws in our cafés.

We are also planning for the future, as we plan to put charging stations at our stores that will quickly charge electric cars and other forms of electric transportation. We currently have one at our City Creek location, and seven more are planned to be installed this summer.

Reusable Bags

One way that everyone can help reduce our impact on the earth is to use reusable bags for your grocery shopping, and in April, in celebration of Earth Day and Earth Month, Foodie Club members are rewarded for bringing in their reusable bags, receiving 10 points every time they use a reusable bag. In addition, from April 18-24, 2021, all the proceeds from every reusable bag purchased will be donated to UCAIR, an organization that focuses on improving Utah’s air.

On the left, Bob Harmon shows off one of our canvas reusable bags.

One program that is near and dear to Kate’s heart is B-Corp, a certification program that evaluates businesses according to the highest standard of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. You can find over 500 B-Corp certified products in Harmons, and the knowledge can help you to shop responsibly. All you have to do is look for the B-Corp logo.

Kate goes into a lot more detail in the podcast, explaining the differences green efforts make in very relatable terms.

We hope you listen to blog and find new ways to reduce your carbon footprint and ensure a safe and healthy future for all.

Kate Whitbeck

Kate Whitbeck is Harmons’ director of sustainability. She is a profound believer in the powers of the plant-based diet as a solution to climate change. Unfortunately, her bacon habit continues to thwart her ability to embrace plants for every meal.

If you enjoyed this podcast, you’ll want to listen to our other episodes. You can find them here. Recent episodes include Eating a Plant-Based Diet with Chef Callyn Graf and The Science of Bread with Jason Lindsey.

At Harmons, we’re lucky to have incredibly talented artists at each store, and we’re sure you’ve seen their amazing chalk art as you wander throughout every location. We’re excited to be able to feature some of their work as the featured art on our podcast blog. This art is the work of James Bennion, the artist at our Bangerter Crossing location. 

“B” the Change with B-Corp

We all have our pet issues and causes. But do you put your money where your mouth is? Do you shop your values? As Harmons’ sustainability director, my focus tends to be on the environment. It turns out, I am not alone. “Seventy-five percent of Americans consider the environment when they shop, and more than a quarter of consumers rely on certifications to help them make their decisions about what and where to purchase.”[1]

It hasn’t always been easy to vet companies and get a good understanding of whether they are an ethical company, committed to sustainability and fair employment practices. It can be hard to stay on top of the various certificationsorganic, fair-trade, humane, dolphin safe, non-GMO, Rainforest Alliance, etc. You can’t always tell which is a legitimate certification program and which is greenwashing.

One of the tools that I have been using to help me vet companies is B-Corp, a certification program that evaluates businesses according to the highest standard of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. Certified businesses strive to balance profit and purpose.

B-Corp looks at how a company’s operations and business model impacts its workers, community, environment, and customersfrom its supply chain and input materials to its charitable giving and employee benefits.

A few of the B-Corp items we carry on display at our City Creek location

Grocery Items

I look for the B-Corp seal in a number of Harmons’ departments when I shop. When it comes to food items, King Arthur Flour is one of my favorites. Not only do they provide high-quality products, but they are an employee-owned company that has been around since 1790. They use only non-GMO wheat from American farms in all their signature flours (unbleached) and baking products.

Yogi Tea is another favorite. I like to start my day with their Super Antioxidant Green Tea. Yogi Tea’s mission is to support quality, sustainability and social responsibility on a local, national and global level when sourcing the 125 botanicals they use from around the world. They support education, reforestation, access to medical care, and community identified infrastructure projects in communities where they work.

Divine Chocolate is a recent discovery of mine. The chocolate industry has long struggled with an exploitative relationship with cocoa producers. Divine Chocolate is a global, farmer-owned chocolate company sourcing cocoa from Ghana and Sao Tome. Part of their mission is to empower women by helping them develop the skills and confidence to grow better cocoa, build better communities, and thrive in business.

Cleaning Products

When it comes to cleaning products, there are a number of B-Corps that I stock up on regularly. Ecos, Seventh Generation, Dr. Bronner and Boulder Clean are a few of my favorites.

Ecos is manufactured in the US using 100% renewable energy in carbon neutral, water neutral and zero waste certified facilities. They support their employees by paying a $17 per hour minimum wage and provide exceptional healthcare and paid family leave. On top of that, you can feel good knowing their products will clean your home without harming your family’s health.  I especially like their stainless-steel cleaner which keeps my fridge and dishwasher smudge-free.

Seventh Generation based their name on an ancient Iroquois philosophy which instructs that “in our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

This translates into ingredient transparency and safe, plant-based formulas (petroleum-free) that outperform their conventional competitors. On top of their health and safety merits, they actively advocate for change on issues related to their mission – transparency (ingredient disclosure), renewable energy and the climate movement. The Seventh Generation Foundation is their grant-making arm that supports organizations that promote and improve environmental conservation, the sustainable use of natural resources, and human health and social welfare. 

Personal Care Products

When it comes to personal care products, I try to make sure that any product that comes in contact with my skin or hair is safe and free of any ingredients that could irritate or cause harm.

All Good is a brand anyone can feel good about. I particularly like their sunscreens and deodorant. In addition to great products, they have achieved carbon neutrality by measuring, reducing, insetting and offsetting emissions. They shut down their offices to march for climate. They support environmental organizations locally and globally. It is their philosophy that in the same way that their products are good for the people, it’s important that their business is good for the community, their customers, vendors, and the land from which they are sourced. On top of being reef-friendly and cruelty-free, they offer some products in completely plastic-free packaging. To top it all off, they are a member of 1% for the Planet (FTP) whose members donate 1% of all total salesnot just proceeds or profitsto environmental causes.

Hi-Bar is an intriguing new product founded on the idea of providing salon-quality shampoo and conditioner without the plastic bottle. Their packaging is either compostable or easily recyclable or both. Even their shipping packaging is 100% plastic-free (no bubble wrap or plastic tape). You can imagine the potential impact when in 2021, Americans will discard over half a billion shampoo bottles. Because there is zero liquid, it is lightweight which means lower shipping costs and a smaller carbon footprint. They use only cruelty-free, safe, sustainable ingredients. They have thought through every detail. Unlike regular bar soap, the shape is easy to hold, saves space in the shower, and sheds moisture quickly. On top of all that, it performs like a high-end salon product. What’s not to like?

April is Earth month so take a minute to think about how you can shop for the planet. Remember to look for the B-Corp seal and know these are companies you can feel confident supporting.

[1] Source: GroceryDive referencing 11th annual EcoFocus Worldwide US Trends Survey

Kate Whitbeck is Harmons’ director of sustainability. She is a profound believer in the powers of the plant-based diet as a solution to climate change. Unfortunately, her bacon habit continues to thwart her ability to embrace plants for every meal.