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Honeybees have been in crisis for the last few years. And that’s not a good thing for any of us.

A mysterious affliction known as colony collapse disorder – characterized by mass die-offs and even disappearances of whole colonies – has been reported by beekeepers across the Globe. And because a large number of the crops we humans rely on for survival are pollinated by honeybees, any threat to bees is a very serious concern for modern agriculture as a whole.

Communites Mobilize to Support Bees

If there’s a silver lining to this cloud, then it’s the huge outpouring of concern from businesses, communities and citizens who are ready to take a stand to support the pollinators who support us. Whether it’s Burt’s Bees push to educate the public and support bee-friendly gardening, Durham revising its ordinances to allow beekeeping in the city, or the academic community’s efforts to better understand honeybee health (including this NC State study on honeybee promiscuity), North Carolina has seen more than its fair share of bee-friendly action.

Discovering Our Environment Through Honey

For Chatham County beekeeper Marty Hanks, however, it’s not just about what we can do for the bees – but what they can do for us too. Specifically, says Hanks, bees can provide a lens through which we can better understand our own communities. By capturing a “snapshot” of the flora that surrounds us, bees provide us with a new way to experience the environment we call home:

“Through our 5 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 and “The Hometown Honey Taste Off” was born!  We will place hives in five communities and gather and keep separate the honey from each area. Next summer after the harvest we will hold a Hometown Honey Taste Off in each of the five communities to see which flavor is the most popular.”

The Hometown Honey Taste-off

Hanks has already been developing his concept, selling Chatham County, Orange County and Saxapahaw honey – each with its own distinct flavor, color and texture. He is now looking for support from his community to expand his “microlocal” business concept to more locations. He has launched a campaign through the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to buy new hives and colonies, honey extraction equipment, and create educational materials. He’s offering funders everything from ongoing discounts on honey purchases to a bee-hind the scenes tour of his beeyard. But the real payoff, says Hanks, comes from keeping the bees buzzing and our farms growing.