Honey, like wine, is a hyperlocal food. Each batch is different, deriving color and flavor from the blossoms found by bees. Beekeepers place hives in, say, a kudzu patch or strawberry field. “Some people say they can taste the strawberry in it,” says Donna Lopes, who operates Hidden Springs, a 109-acre farm in Williamson, about forty-five miles south of Atlanta. Lopes also raises cattle and tends a pecan orchard, but nearly three-quarters of her business comes from her honey operation (which began in 2000) and from the queens she raises and sells to beekeepers.
If you buy only one food from a local source, put your money on honey. It turns out much of the sweet stuff sold by big companies in groceries and drugstores may come from dubious sources. In tests conducted in 2011, Vaughn Bryant, an anthropology professor at Texas A&M University and the nation’s leading melissopalynologist (he studies pollen in honey), found that three-fourths of the honey sold under national and store labels had been intentionally filtered of its pollen. Without a pollen fingerprint, there’s no way to determine where the honey originated—perhaps from countries where bees were dusted with antibiotics or contaminated with toxins.
Honey from small apiaries like Hidden Springs is usually loaded with pollen, Bryant says. And the tastes of the varieties are typically richer and more distinct. (By the way, though myths persist that locally produced honey can help boost immune systems to ease allergy symptoms, no studies have yet substantiated this.) This winter, buy Hidden Springs Farm honeys—including varieties flavored by cotton, tupelo, tulip poplar, orange blossom, and thistle—at Emory and Decatur farmers markets or online at hsffarm.com.