Baltimore’s most ardent apian enthusiasts don’t like to call themselves beekeepers. “Honeybees keep us,” notes Meme Thomas, who prefers the term “honeybee steward.” Thomas heads up Baltimore Honey, a local non-profit that’s been getting some buzz (sorry, couldn’t resist) lately for its innovative bee-centric programs, most notably starting the nation’s first apiary CSA. Now Thomas is hoping to recruit a whole new crew of bee (and honey) lovers to help with the honeycombs that the group has in every zip code of Baltimore City — and maybe one of them will be you?
I have a friend whose excuse for sitting on the couch is that marathons are dangerous: “People die every year!” he likes to exclaim. “Don’t you read the news?” But, according to recent research from Johns Hopkins, the risk of dying in a marathon is just as low as it’s always been, even though the races are growing in popularity.
Between 2000 and 2009, the number of marathon finishers increased by a whopping 58 percent, according to Julius Cuong Pham, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Hopkins. (Pham himself has completed three marathons.) In that same period, 28 people died during or directly after a marathon, a death rate of about .75 per 100,000 race finishers — and that’s very, very low. Of course, some populations are at a (slightly) higher risk: half those who died were over age 45, and most were men. The cause of death for older runners was almost always heart disease; for younger runners, causes included both heart problems and hyponatremia (drinking too much water).
If you still need an excuse to stay on the couch, though, never fear — marathons are still dangerous, just in a less dramatic way. Other studies have shown that around 90 percent of people training for marathons each year will have some injury, the vast majority of those being musculoskeletal in nature.
If you’re buying honey in cute little Winnie the Pooh-shaped bottles, or if you think you’re saving money by getting the sweet stuff at Rite Aid or Walgreens, you may want to reconsider. Recent studies have found that more than a third of the honey consumed in the U.S. has probably been smuggled in from China, despite a ban by the FDA. And that much of the honey sold here has had its pollen filtered out — which hides its origins and makes it (technically) not honey at all. Honey of suspect origins may be tainted with antibiotics, heavy metals, or who knows what else. Three-quarters of grocery store honey had all its pollen removed; 100 percent of drug store honey had no pollen.
So what’s a honey lover to do? Lucky for Baltimoreans, there’s a small but vibrant honey culture happening right under our noses. Here’s a few ways to get honey that’s for sure not from China — because it’s from right down the block:
- Baltimore Honey is essentially a CSA for bees. A membership share is $45, and gets you a pound of micro-local, organic raw honey. Sign up soon; spots are limited.
- Really Raw Honey is a Baltimore-based network of family beekeepers across the country. Their honey is available online, and at fancier grocery stores citywide.
- Given its name, no surprise that Mt. Vernon’s Milk & Honey Market sells small batches of honey by local hobby beekeepers. Some are kind of pricey, but once you start with quality honey, you’ll never go back.
- Become a beekeeper yourself! Make friends with the bees, harvest your own honey, and know exactly what you’re eating. Info on supplies, beekeeping courses, and Baltimore’s bee laws here.
If cat people are elegant and intellectual, and dog people are slobbery and gullible (perhaps you can tell what side of the divide I fall on?), what are bee people like? Judging from a few Hopkins researchers who have embarked on a beekeeping project at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, they tend to be meticulous, enthusiastic, and fond of experiments.
This particular endeavor isn’t about the honey–that just sweetens the deal (sorry, couldn’t resist). Instead, it’s an attempt to keep a hive of bees alive and thriving in the face of the mysterious colony collapse disorder that threatened bee populations nationwide. And what does all that have to do with public health? Well, because bees are superstar pollinators, fewer bees means the food system as a whole is under threat; we all have an interest in keeping the bee population healthy, thriving, and full of nectar.
As long as all goes well, the 60,000 bees in the hive (give or take a few thousand) will produce about 100 pounds of honey in a year; 60% of it is consumed by the bees themselves, and 40% goes to the researchers. Of course, getting that honey requires some precise manipulations; no wonder, perhaps, that these scientists are drawn to them.