Follow The Honey: Telling the Story of Humanity
Africans In Boston recently visited with Mary Canning, owner of Follow The Honey, at her store in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, which since its opening on National Honey Bee Day in 2011, has demonstrated its long term commitment to encouraging international community building and education through raising awareness by way of the sweet stuff. It seems simple, a store specializing in the sale of honey, many of us have some nostalgia concerning its use whether that be through a soothing Hot Toddy when under the weather, a beekeeper in the family or in some far off landscape traveled where you indulged in honey- drenched bread. This is part of the potency of the narrative honey inspires.
Honey, regardless of appearance, has distinct flavor profiles based on the foraging flowers of the bees, moisture content of the soil and temperature where it’s cultivated, so one can never judge a honey by its color! In the store the story is revealed by the charming vintage décor, hand-picked & designed by Caneen, Mary’s daughter and company co-owner, illuminated by the unparalleled selection of international honeys, beeswax creations, books, jewelry and beyond; refreshingly presented and curated with care by the knowledgeable team of “worker bees”. Stepping through the door into “the hive” you can feel that you are in for an experience with each honeybee co-cultivated offering awaiting the chance to transport you.
Follow the Honey has an impressive selection but it was through Canning’s business trip to the Honey Expo in Tanzania, Africa, which the story of the Tanzanian honeys, can be told. According to Canning, “Africa has eco-diversity and foliage that fosters the perfect environment for bees.” As worker bee, artist Erin Shaw explained at the complimentary honey raw bar tasting, “Each honey is flavored by the essence of the flower nectar the bees feed on”. From Tuscany to Tasmania to Palestine to Greece and beyond; “honey opens up the mind by way of the magic carpet ride of the palette,” says Canning.
So it was a vision come true, when Mary received a personal invitation from Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda of Tanzania- himself a beekeeper -to attend the Dar es Salaam Honey Expo October ‘12 to cultivate a working partnership with National Beekeeping Supplies David Camara, working intimately with remote regions of the country to centralize honey production in order for it to meet standards allowing it to enter the American and European marketplace. With Cameras’ expertise mobilizing community to produce premium honey in pesticide free regions of forage and Canning & Company’s panache branding, marketing and selling; a match made in, well, “human rights” heaven.
Canning turned to bee-keeping, after a professional career in documentary filmmaking, to nurse a wounded soul after losing her first husband to cancer. She was touched by the potential of bees and their honey not only to heal, but to boost economic potential in areas where marginalized individuals - widows and subsistence farmers in this case, when she journeyed to Kerala India. There she saw good people cultivating tons of honey and beeswax unable to penetrate the global marketplace. Yet, those who had gotten a leg up, had substantively upgraded local systems to include irrigation, health care and education within a relatively short period of time. Her inspiration.
Today, she uses her love for beekeeping to raise awareness and bridge the gap between American consumers, truth seekers and global beekeepers ~ such as those in Tanzania ~ who she is working with to change minds and hearts as to its value. Says Canning, “This is liquid gold and those producing it should feel proud, be seen and well compensated for it. This is the heart of our Follow The Honey mission– where social justice & economics meet.”
Bees and honey get people resonating about their inherent, some say talismanic, medicinal properties where all wisdom traditions having them nestled in lore. That said, they are the perfect vector to think outside the box, when it comes to multiculturalism, poverty, gender, war or the eco-system. Bees of today are this generations “canary in a coal mine.” Thus by offering a selection of international and rare honeys, Canning has gently opened a fair trade dialogue with human beings questioning conflict, class and pesticides at center stage -thereby proving that we get more flies with honey than vinegar!
So it may be the sweetness of honey that brings customers into Follow the Honey at first, but it is the immersion in the honey story that keeps them coming back. Canning looks forward to receiving their first shipment of Tanzania Asali early autumn this year into Boston seaport while building nascent bees-ness relations in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Benin and beyond. Honey for humanity!
Follow The Honey will host “Africans In Boston” Hakuna Sunday –a bi-weekly social for African students, young professionals, entrepreneurs, business men and women and others to network— February 17th, Valentine’s Day weekend, so do bring your honey to indulge in the “sweet stuff” ~it is today’s flowers, champagne & chocolate; yet literally lasting forever as the Pharaohs can attest . An array of honeys will be available for tasting & entertainment provided.