Look a closer at the flowers next time you sit on your deck. See that hyperactive bee keeping busy as you sip your sangria? It might be contributing to the local food ecosystem.
This year, beekeeper Fred Davis, who manages hives in Toronto for Casa Loma and the Canadian Opera Company, has taken urban agriculture a step forward by introducing a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model to his growing business. His hive-share program helps to turn honey-lovers into virtual beekeepers.
It’s the latest in a line of innovative local food initiatives, such as Vancouver’s Fresh Roots Urban Farm, which grows produce in downtown schoolyard “market gardens” and sells it via CSAs, Common Roots Urban Farm in Halifax, which is making productive use of post-demolition downtown land left empty, and Ontario’s Monforte Dairy, which sold multiyear CSA shares to raise funding to build its facility after being turned down for bank loans.
Each of Mr. Davis’s hives – he has 22 tucked around the city – produces upward of 34 kilograms of honey in two harvests, although in very wet or hot summers, both of which are hard on bees, the haul will be lower. (The hot summers are hard on Mr. Davis too: This past weekend, he says, he extracted 200 pounds of honey and lost three pounds in sweat.)
Program participants can sign up for a quarter, half or entire hive’s output, in either comb or liquid honey. Share owners are welcome to visit their hives, and Mr. Davis is mentoring new beekeepers and considering offering urban beekeeping workshops.
For the first year (the most expensive because of the cost of new equipment), he charges from $800 for a full hive down to $250 for a quarter, with reductions in subsequent years. Among the inaugural subscribers are six Toronto chefs, including Jamie Kennedy and Ruby Watchco’s Lora Kirk, so hyper-local honey will probably be a hot trend this fall.
Mr. Davis’s bees travel three to five kilometres for a particularly tasty patch of pollen, which in a diverse landscape like Toronto’s, with its seasonal wildflowers and so-called weeds plus fruit trees and gardens, means that the honey has no single-profile flavours akin to the clover or buckwheat you might find on store shelves. Instead, he says, “each harvest tastes remarkably different” because of the changing nectar availability from month to month. “The flavour is simply amazing. I can almost guarantee that it’s some of the best you will have.”
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