Laura Gallup is the marketing and events coordinator for the Ithaca Farmers Market as well as the managing editor of Edible Finger Lakes magazine. She lives in Ithaca but grew up eating strawberries by the bucketful on her dad’s farm in Hector. In this new column, Laura will be sharing tips on how you can eat locally year-round.
Before the pains of overeating even set in after Thanksgiving dinner, many Americans start thinking about shopping for holiday gifts on Black Friday. If you’re not already in line at Walmart, Best Buy or Target – consider what your local farmers and artisans have to offer on Small Business Saturday.
From their booth at the Ithaca Farmers, Bright Raven Farm & Apiary sells chunks of honeycomb and glass jars full of raw, beautiful honey made by bees on their farm in Jacksonville, NY, and five other bee yards on properties west of Cayuga Lake. The jars come in different sizes and shades of gold – ranging from light yellow, to burnt orange, to almost brown. Co-owner Teresa Vanek says that the color differences come from the type of plant that the bees were feeding on at the time the honey was harvested. “Unlike bigger honey farms that harvest once or twice a year, we do lots of micro-harvests to highlight different varietals,” says Teresa.
Every small batch is created either from the nectar of one specific type of flower – such as Basswood, Goldenrod or Sumac – or from a range of flowers that were blooming at the same time. The practice highlights how each source will produce a slightly different product – each with its own specific flavor, texture and smell. Some are mildly spicy, others hold up well in marinades and some smell faintly like the flower they were derived from.
This year the duo also produced new products like seeded honey – where sweet, sticky honey is mixed with a blend of toasted seeds including sesame, hemp and anise. They’ve also been experimenting with flavor-infused products – using ginger, cinnamon and other ingredients known for their medicinal benefits.
At Bright Raven, quality is key. Unlike many store-bought brands, their honey is never exposed to extreme heat – making it raw. Teresa and co-owner Brent Welch use a cold extraction method to free the fresh honey by slicing open the wax combs with a blade. The whole frame is placed into a centrifuge which separates the honey from the wax and anything else that ended up in the combs. “Heat makes things go faster, but it messes with the flavor and the medicinal benefits,” says Brent.
If you’re looking for the ultimate unprocessed option – the couple also sell segments of honeycomb. It can be sliced and consumed as is, including the wax. “When you eat it straight, it kind of feels like chewing gum,” says Teresa. “It also goes great with a cheese plate or spread on warm toast.”
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The beekeeper’s job during the winter is to keep the hive entrance clear while also protecting against bears, skunks and mice – which can all destroy a hive. “In the good ole’ days bee losses during the winter were usually around 10%, now they’re all over the place,” says Brent. The couple says that last year their bee death rate was at an all-time low around 10%, but in past years it’s reached 80%. Aside from destructive critters – diseases and moisture in the hive can also be devastating.
Teresa says the bees don’t exactly hibernate, but cluster around the queen and flap their wings to keep everyone warm. “It’s more like dislocating their shoulders over and over,” Brent explains.
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The middle of the cluster stays a toasty 80 degrees, while the outside is around 40 degrees, with the whole colony continuously rotating positions. “They mostly just eat their reserves of honey and try to stay alive,” says Teresa. In January the bees begin raising their young, and when it gets into the 60’s they will start searching for nectar and pollen again.
If you choose to shop locally this year, there’s no shortage of amazing gifts to choose from. At the Ithaca Farmers Market this includes wooden cutting boards, home goods, art, clothing, jewelry, kitchen utensils, leather goods, pottery, cheese, wine, cider, jelly and other condiments, kids toys, soap, skincare, mittens, ornaments, wreaths and honey!
The Ithaca Farmers Market runs every Saturday outdoors at the Steamboat Landing pavilion until Dec. 21, and picks back up indoors at the Triphammer Marketplace on Jan. 4. On Saturday, November 30th there is a special “Small Business Saturday” celebration including music from Travis Knapp, a free Bingo game for kids and a canned food drive to benefit Friendship Donations Network.