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Updated: November 22, 2012 19:05 IST
THE RELUCTANT GOURMET

Oh! Honey

SHONALI MUTHALALY
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KEEPING IT SIMPLE: Lyndon Fenlon
KEEPING IT SIMPLE: Lyndon Fenlon

There’s honey. And then there’s honey.

Much of what we consume today is homogenous, mass-produced and uninspired. So, of course there’s a counter movement. After all, honey has always been seen as a miracle food. And who doesn’t like bees?

In small pockets, all over the world, people are rebelling against the flat honey created by feeding bees trays of sugar water, and setting up their own hives. A lot of these people live in big, bustling cities. Incredibly, city honey is often superior to honey from the country side, because it’s made up of a complex network of flowers.

Need more inspiration? Meet Lyndon Fenlon, the founder of Urban Honey Co, which he calls “a tiny business with a big name”. Seven years ago he discovered the centuries-old practice of city bee keeping and decided to put Melbourne on the international map of urban honey production. His vision was to build a network of urban bee-hives on green pockets of land and city rooftops with the aim of making locally sourced, sustainably produced honey available to everyone in and around Melbourne’s Central Business District. Urban Honey Co.’s small scale hives are located in places where bees have access to a variety of flowers through the year. To ensure a low carbon footprint maintenance honey extraction visits are done on foot or bicycle.

Lyndon says he always liked bees but never imagined he’d become a bee keeper. “It wasn’t until 10 years ago when I was thinking about the meaning of sustainability that I started to investigate the simplest and most effective way I could live my life,” he says. “I wondered how I could produce food while at the same time create benefit for others.” The answer, he says, was obvious. “It was a no-brainer really. Bees! Bees live incredibly sustainably. They give us the gift of pollination, you don’t need a fancy garden to keep them and because they store their goodness in a high-rise they take up far less space compared to their output.” The more he learned the more fascinated he got. “I was just hooked, they are miraculous. I loved too that there were so many areas regarding them yet to be researched.”

As a city dweller looking for a local solution to food production and it seemed natural that he would become an urban apiarist. “Very early on I envisaged everyone being able to source local honey from as close by as possible. I set a target of selling honey only within a bees flying distance of where it was produced. This had never been done before anywhere as far as I could tell.” His plan was to eventually have a network of honey sources set up in every suburb of Melbourne, the North, East, South and West as well as the CBD. There’s another thing that sets his honey apart. “My logic is that every time you replace human effort then it is going to cost you one way or another so I decided to hand-extract and bottle. By keeping things simple and not shying away from labour intensive practices I hoped that I would have a method of sustainability you could see, without me having to preach to anyone.”

Cold uncapped honey means that no artificial heat comes into contact with the honey at any stage. “So the natural enzymes that exist in honey and give it its anti-bacterial properties are not killed off. It does make a difference to the flavour and you can sometimes even feel a slight fizz after it goes down.” Lyndon cautions that he’s not running down super market honey. “I happen to love the industry and admire beekeepers greatly. For this reason I will not say that supermarket honey is no good. What I will say though is that my honey is so natural and good that you may as well have stuck your own head inside a hive to taste it because it is that fresh. Because it is not heated (which is also a standard treatment for making it become more runny and so easier to filter at high pressure through micro-filters) it means that the filtration I use also retains trace elements such as pollen which some say benefits those with allergies such as hay fever.

Of course all this is labour-intensive, which means there’s a limit to how big his company can grow. “I cannot grow any bigger than I can physically handle and so I am sustainable. The network is being expanded by others doing the same within their local areas until they too eventually reach their cap and so on and so on.”

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