For the Daily Hampshire Gazette – Sunday, June 19, 2016
Jessica Wisniewski’s two children play among old beehives during a CISA sponsored tour of Warm Colors Apiary, Thursday, May 26, 2016 in South Deerfield. RECORDER STAFF/ANDY CASTILLO
SOUTH DEERFIELD — The air suddenly becomes thick with angry bees as a beekeeper, garbed in white, removes the cover from a beehive at Warm Colors Apiary and searches for a queen.
Inside the swarm, the overpowering sound of wings beating against air is almost as strong as the permeating scent of raw honey, which drifts up from the cluster of hives, across a small farm yard and into a quaint building, where a group of about 20 local farmers, chefs, students and business owners have gathered for a tour of the apiary to learn both about the farm, and about honey production in the Pioneer Valley.
“We have currently about 800 (hives) that are primarily honey producing colonies, another 200 raise queens,” says Dan Conlin from the front of the room.
Conlin, who has kept bees since he was 14, owns the apiary on South Mill River Road, along with his wife Bonita Conlin. Throughout the year, the apiary produces honey, pollinates farmers’ crops, sells beeswax candles and beekeeping supplies, and offers educational classes to aspiring beekeepers.
Before he became a full-time beekeeper in 2000, Conlin worked at the Northfield Mount Hermon School. After he turned 50, Conlin quit his job and decided to raise bees.
“Our mission has been since Day One to operate without the use of chemicals. We’ve never had a pesticide incident,” he continues. “Bringing bees to a field (can) improve yield by 40 to 60 percent.”
The apiary is one of the largest in western Massachusetts, and supplies honey to many local cafes and businesses in the Pioneer Valley, including Foster’s, Green Fields Market, River Valley Market and Dobra Tea.
Aside from a plethora of local businesses interested in sourcing local ingredients, Conlin says the region is good because of its natural habitat.
“It’s always been a good (spot), our little valley right here,” Conlin says about the climate and location of the apiary. “We have, blooming throughout the year, natural nutrition — which is healthy for the bees.”
Conlin said because there are a variety of flowers that bloom at different times during the year, beekeepers do not have to relocate bees to find food sources.
The event June 2 was hosted by Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, of South Deerfield, which helps local agriculture by bringing together farmers, local businesses, financial investors and other people interested in farming.
Events hosted by CISA are opportunities for mutually beneficial deals to be made and long-term, collaborative relationships to be established by small businesses and farms that otherwise might not have the network to branch out into other industries.
“It’s some of the best quality honey there is,” says Will Savitri, owner of Artisan Beverage Cooperative. Savitri uses the honey to make mead. “And knowing how sustainable his practices are in the Pioneer Valley” makes it even better.
Outside, after the presentation, Conlin, while holding an excluder (the part of the hive where the queen lives), explains why bees are so important.
The group is gathered around him, not far from the hives.
“We’re all interrelated, sustainability is essential,” he says. “Bees give us honey, but they also” do more.
The bees are calm, clustered around the queen and busy at work making honey, even though Conlin is holding the excluder in the open air.
“They’re strong, smart, and their communication is second to humans,” Bonita Conlin says. “Education is part of our mission, to teach people how important bees are to all of us. It would be tragic not to have bees” because of the role they play in agriculture pollination.
Many others agree, such as Jessica Wisnieswski, who brought her two children to the event.
“They’re letting the next generation be a part of these events,” she says, while watching her children play among discarded beehives. “It’s a chance for them to see the importance of using local honey. To have them see (this) first hand, really touches the soul.”
Did you know that the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture has established a new apiary in partnership with the UMass Beekeeping Club and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources? And we offer a course in Practical Beekeeping for Sustainable Food and Farming majors!
Here is SFF major, Ori Ben-Shir talking about his bee project!