Sweet New Hotel Trend: On-Site Beehives And Honey Programs

honey Going local, consuming natural products and being kind to the environment is becoming more important to people as they try to lead healthier lives. Luckily, many hotels are recognizing this, and trying to bring this philosophy to guests. It’s for this reason I find myself on the 20th floor rooftop of the Waldorf Astoria New York, wearing a beekeeper’s suit mere centimeters from 360,000 active hives.

“You probably won’t get stung,” assures Andrew Cote, the hotel’s resident beekeeper as well as an advisor for the bee initiative and leader in the NYC movement, who isn’t wearing any protective clothing. “If you do, though, know the poison from a bee sting is very good for you. Some people pay hundreds of dollars to have stingers placed into their skin.”

Not only is their poison good, but so is their honey. The roof has six hives in total. They look like small dressers, containing different compartments and drawers. Andrew sprays the hives with burlap as the smoke calms the bees, which tend to more aggressive in the fall when their hives are dying. One by one, we pull out wooden frames containing honeycombs. They’re tasty works of art, as the different honey varieties, wax and eggs form colorful patterns and designs. To keep the eggs out of the top frame where the pure honey is extracted, a “Queen Excluder” screen with tiny holes is used to keep the queen bee out. The result is pure honey produced from local wildflowers.So, why are the bee hives beneficial?

“It is great for the environment. Bees help pollinate flowers, trees and all kinds of flowering plants helping to further the greenery in NYC and purify the air we breathe,” explains Chef Garcelon of the Waldorf Astoria New York, who is very involved in the program. “… Best of all, it provides great quality honey that we can use in soups, salad dressings, savory dishes, pastries, baked goods and cocktails. In addition we can highlight the source of the honey on our menus and tell the story to our array of guests from around the world.”

beesThe Waldorf-Astoria isn’t the only hotel jumping on this sweet new trend. Hotels all over the United States are employing professional beekeepers to maintain onsite hives and work the delicious product into their dining and amenity programs.

At the Fairmont San Francisco, honey beehives are installed in the hotel’s culinary garden. About 800 pounds of honey is harvested, which is used to make dishes more organic and sustainable. For example, the honey is used in soups, salad dressings, pastries and as an accompaniment to their afternoon tea service. Most recently, the honey has also been used to create a “Fairmont San Francisco Honey Saison,” a handcrafted Belgian beer that infuses the pure honey from the rooftop.

“We were already using the honey in various dishes and our afternoon tea at the hotel, but wanted to offer guests something even more unique,” explains the hotel’s Executive Chef, JW Foster. “… We partnered with the local Almanac Beer Co, which shares a passion for the environment and makes a great product.”

According to the hotel, guests love it. In fact, it is their number one selling beer on draft.

Additionally, the Brown Palace Hotel & Spa in Denver, Colorado, implements a “Royal Bee Initiative” into their hotel programming. Originally a small honey program, it was expanded in order to enhance the food and beverage program, grow the spa menu and educate people about how bees are in peril and how we can help.

The luxury hotel uses their on-site bee colony to offer a number of innovative experiences to guests in terms of food, beverage and relaxation. In terms of drinks, the Brown Palace works with local breweries and distilleries to offer a “Brown Palace Rooftop Honey Saison,” honey-infused bourbon and signature cocktails like the “Brown Palace Bees’ Knees” and the “Honey Brut.” During their high tea, honey is used to sweeten guests’ teas and scones.

spa Their spa also incorporates the pure rooftop honey into treatments and products. The “Queen Bee Body Scrub” combines organic brown sugar and in-house honey to exfoliate, hydrate and balance the skin’s pH levels. Furthermore, “Bee Royalty Signature Products” like lip balms and soaps make for artisanal gifts, and a portion of the proceeds generated go toward helping the Denver Beekeeper Association.

“There are a total of four bee hives, with more than 200,000 bees,” explains the hotel’s resident beekeeper Matt Kentner. “It would be great to continue with the work we’ve been doing – we’d love to continue to grow our hives; but most importantly, we want to continue to educate the public on the importance of bees, and how we couldn’t live without them.”

Some other U.S. hotels with on-site bee hives and honey programs include The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton, The Royal Sonesta Hotel Harbor Court, Baltimore and Ohio’s Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, among others. And, as the trend continues to catch on, more and more hotels are continuing to adopt beekeeping programs.

honey drink Festivals

Along with staying at select hotels, travelers can experience the honey trend by attending honey-focused festivals. From September 29 to 30, the Arizona Honey Fest will debut at the Boulders Resort in Carefree, Arizona. The event will focus on the health and culinary benefits of the product, as well as the history. Cooking with honey demonstrations, honey spa treatments, beekeeper demonstrations, a Gala Honey Dinner, honey-infused cocktails and an outdoor marketplace will be featured.

Also coming up on September 29 and 30 is the annual Honey Harvest Festival in Cockeysville, Maryland. Beeswax candle making, a honey basket raffle, honey wine making and hive demonstrations are all part of the weekend lineup.

Each fall, New York City holds their annual Honey Festival. Honey-themed events are put on throughout the five boroughs, like honey tastings, honey-themed menus and drinks, city beehive tours, film screenings and speakers.

What do you think of the beehive hotel trend?

[Images via Shutterstock]

‘Food Forward’ PBS Series Debuts With ‘Urban Agriculture Across America’ Episode

cowsIn less than a century, the United States has gone from being a mostly agrarian society to an urbanized one. Most of us live in cities and, despite our growing cultural fascination with food, most Americans have no idea where the ingredients on their plate (or in that wrapper) are actually coming from.

That’s where “Food Forward” comes in. After a three-year effort, the premiere episode of this innovative new PBS series, as first reported by the Huffington Post, is airing nationally throughout April (see schedule after the jump). In “Urban Agriculture Across America,” the “Food Forward” crew travel from the Bay Area to Milwaukee, Detroit and New York City, talking to urban farming innovators such as Abeni Ramsey, a single mother in West Oakland.

Formerly relegated to feeding her family Top Ramen, Ramsey was inspired some years ago by a farm stand she spotted in her neighborhood, operated by West Oakland’s City Slicker Farms. As part of City Slickers’ initiative to nourish under-served communities, their staff and volunteers build garden boxes (designed for small-scale, intensive production) in residents’ yards.

Ramsey got her garden box and soon had a backyard full of produce. Next, she got chickens to provide her family with protein in the form of meat and eggs. Today, she’s the farm manager of the East Bay’s urban Dig Deep Farms. Dig Deep sells and delivers produce to local communities through its CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) program and works in collaboration with Oakland’s acclaimed Flora restaurant.

Says Flora chef Rico Rivera, “We order the produce, she picks it and it’s here the next morning.” Adds Ramsey, “It’s a modern idea that you get all of your food from the store. People have been farming in cities…since there were cities.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user Martin Gommel]rooftop gardenJohn Mooney, chef and rooftop hydroponic farmer at Bell Book & Candle in Manhattan’s West Village, is another interesting subject as is urban beekeeper Andrew Coté, who collects specific blends from hives around Manhattan and Brooklyn.

While the idea of keeping bees in the midst of a metropolis may seem an unnecessary objective, or a somewhat precious craft food enterprise, it’s anything but, as Coté points out. “Bees help pollinate the city’s community and rooftop gardens as well as window boxes.” Localized honey also contains pollen that helps allergy sufferers living in these neighborhoods.

Of Detroit, “Food Forward” co-creator/producer Stett Holbrook says, “It blew my mind. It’s a city that has been devastated by industrial collapse and the exodus of half of its population, but the resilience of the residents still there to remake the city – literally from the ground up – was truly inspiring. Urban agriculture is a big part of the renaissance.”

According to its website, the objective of “Food Forward” is to “create a series that looks beyond the world of celebrity chefs, cooking competitions,” and formulaic recipe shows. From my perspective, it also goes beyond the seemingly endless variations on scintillating (not) reality series on baked good empires, riffs on “Homo sapiens vs. Arteriosclerosis” and “Twenty Crappy Things You Can Cook With Canned Goods.”

Instead, “Food Forward” looks at what it calls the “food rebels” across America – farmers, chefs, ranchers, fishermen, food artisans, scientists and educators – who are dedicated to changingurban farm the way we eat and finding more sustainable alternatives to how food is produced and procured.

“Food Forward” succeeds (if the pilot is any indication) in a way that documentaries of this genre haven’t (despite being excellent on all counts: see, “The Future of Food,” “Food, Inc.,” etc.).

It’s mercifully not about food elitism, either. Rather than leaving you depressed, angry or guilty, the show inspires, entertains and sends a message of hope. Future episodes will focus on school lunch reform, sustainable fishing and meat production and soil science. Some segments are animated, either to better illustrate a point or to engage a wider age demographic.

“Food Forward” is “written, produced and directed by a veteran team of journalists, cinematographers and storytellers that includes: director Greg Roden (PBS, FOX and National Geographic channel’s “Lonely Planet” and the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, and San Francisco Chronicle); aforementioned creator-producer Holbrook (Food editor for Metro Silicon Valley and The Bohemian in Sonoma County, and contributor to the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Saveur and Chow.com); Brian Greene (Food Network, Discovery Channel, NBC), and director of photography David Lindstrom (PBS, National Geographic and Discovery channels).

On April 22, the pilot will air on WTTW in Chicago at 5:30 p.m. and WLIW in New York at 2:30 p.m. On April 28, it will air on Washington DC’s WETA at 5:30 p.m. For future episodes, check your local PBS listings, visit the “Food Forward” website or www.PBS.org/foodforward.


Video of the Day – Hong Kong Honey

Having spent six months in Hong Kong in 2009, I thought I knew the city fairly well at the end of my stay. I could navigate the night markets, had committed the sleek metro system to memory and even attended a few local weddings. But there was one facet of the city that I was completely oblivious to; Hong Kong’s beekeepers.

Hidden among the thousands of rooftops that comprise Hong Kong’s iconic cityscape, there are nearly a dozen beehives that are being cared for by a community of beekeepers, artists & designers. Their aim is to harvest the honey for use in local cafés and design products that relate to the growing trend of urban beekeeping.

This vivid portrait, produced by Sean Mattison, features a short interview with Designer / Beekeeper Michael Leung & sheds a little light on a practice that, at first, seems out of place.

Have you encountered a surprising community or practice on your travels? Share it with us! Leave your video suggestions in the comments below or submit photos to our Flickr Group. There’s a good chance we’ll choose your picks for our next Photo / Video of the Day!