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Honeys on the Ark of Taste, A Sweet Defense of Biodiversity - Part One

Aug. 26, 2014

By Kate Corry-Saavedra, Slow Food USA intern

Since the beginning, the defense and promotion of biodiversity has been central to the Slow Food movement. Put simply, biodiversity, is the great variety of life on Earth. Often times we think of biodiversity as being important in only worlds separate from our own, like in the Amazonian Rainforest or the Great Barrier Reef. Yet biodiversity acts closer to home than we often think, and often times in the form of the food on our plates. Agricultural biodiversity describes the vast array of organisms which are involved in the production of our food, and extends far beyond the products we end up consuming. Biodiversity includes everything from the microorganisms in farm soil to the pollinators which are responsible for fruit production, to the breeds of cattle which we raise for meat and milk.

Biodiversity is under greater threat than ever before: thousands of species are at risk of extinction due to the practices of industrial agriculture. Why does it matter? Certainly, biodiversity adds to our food system by making our meals more interesting, yet it adds to our food system in many other ways as well. Biodiversity is at the core of a food system that is good, clean and fair, and to illustrate this point, we’ll follow the production of some of the sweetest items on the Ark of Taste: honeys!

The honeys on the Ark of taste are unique due to the fields which those specific bees pollinate. Whereas many honeys are designated ‘wildflower’, specialty honeys are produced when a beekeeper controls the type of flowers the bees pollinate. The honeys on the Ark of Taste are endangered because either the plant variety or beekeeping practice is at risk of dying out.

Honeys on the Ark of Taste, a sweet defense of biodiversity - Part One In the case of White Kiawe Honey, both are true. The Kiawe tree is a mesquite tree which grows in very specific coastal climates. Today, Kiawe honey is produced from a single grove of the trees that beekeepers have maintained for over one hundred years. The tree is well suited to Hawai’i’s climate and could be greatly beneficial in a future warming climate, as it has a unique ability to help control desertification. Yet the trees are in danger of extinction: the grove from which the honey is produced, is under threat by plans to develop the area. Without a lively honey production, there is not much that can save the Kiawe tree.

The Kiawe honey is known for its unique flavor and amazingly creamy texture . The loss of this honey varietal would most certainly be a shame for the honey connoisseurs of the world, yet the ecological impact of the loss is also something to consider. In the next post, we will further explore biodiversity by examining the delicate relationship between bees and their keepers.

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