• "Rescuing bees and making honey is our tool to raise awareness about the fact we need to look after our environment." (Amber Honey Drop)Source: Amber Honey Drop
Some people rescue dogs and cats. Ana Martin and Sven Stephan rescue bees. As a result, they have around 300 hives and tens of thousands of bees that work hard to make delicious raw honey with a social message.
By
Yasmin Noone

22 Jul 2021 - 12:09 PM  UPDATED 22 Jul 2021 - 12:22 PM

Environmental passion has many different faces. Some people direct their attention to saving our oceans, while other folks focus on reducing food waste.

Ana Martin and Sven Stephan of Port Macquarie (NSW) are a bit different in that respect. Worried about the world's dwindling honey bee population, they spend their time rescuing bees. Their ultimate aim is to prevent more bees from dying unnecessarily, to protect the ecosystems they support and to make delicious raw honey along the way.

“We are not your typical greenies but we care about the environment and are passionate about animals,” Martin, who hails from northern Spain, tells SBS. “One day we started to find out about how our bees are disappearing. So we thought we would do something to help.”

It all began in 2015 when the German-born Stephan rescued a swarm of bees from inside a wall at a building site, as a hobby. Fast-forward six years to 2021 and the pair are the owners of Amber Drop Honey: a bee-rescuing set-up that also sells raw, pesticide-free, zero-waste honey via Your Food Collective, market stalls, various stockists and an online shop.

“I guess you could be passionate about reducing the amount of plastic in the ocean,” she says. “We are passionate about bees. Rescuing bees and making honey is our tool to raise awareness about the fact we need to look after our environment.

“An environment where bees thrive is an environment where other species thrive – butterflies, beetles, wasps, flies and all of the other little animals, even soil microbes. Our role is to make honey but to also raise awareness about the importance of bees.”

Save the bees and talk about honey

The couple’s awareness-raising activities include a five per cent donation towards bee-friendly projects from the sale of all Amber Drop Honey. They sell starter colonies of rescued bees to people who want to learn the trade of beekeeping in an effort to support small-scale, independent honey production.

The beekeepers bring an observational hive to their market stall when selling direct to the public, so they can answer people’s questions about bees and hives.

“I guess you could be passionate about reducing the amount of plastic in the ocean,” she says. “We are passionate about bees." 

“We also go to schools and talk to the children about how important bees are and why we should protect them,” Martin says. “We explain what happens during a bee rescue and why it is important to keep small-scale beekeeper businesses going.

“At the end of the day, we all depend on pollination. Awareness about bees and honey is just so important.”

Awareness is in every mouthful of honey

Amber Drop’s biggest source of awareness is the honey itself. Raw, distinct and seasonal, Martin says the flavour of the sustainable artisan product speaks volumes about the value of bees.

The company currently has 300 hives, occupied by up to 60,000 bees per colony, located over nine sites. Unlike many large-scale honey producers, Martin and Stephan never move their hives. “Our hives have permanent sites. We don’t need to move our bees constantly and they don’t get stressed out because of the move.”

Locating permanent hives across a range of areas offers the bees variations in climate, rainfall and surrounding flowers. “If the bees in one location don’t produce honey, we just collect honey from another area that might be more abundant because they have better climate.”

“Depending on where it’s from and when it’s picked, it will taste different. But it will always be delicious.”

Martin believes this practice results in happier bees that produce high-quality honey and more of it. But, she emphasises, the beekeepers only collect excess honey that the bees don’t want.

“This is because if the bees don’t have enough honey for themselves and a producer takes too much from them, they could starve. You can actually lose hives because of starvation.

“For example, if you take too much honey and then you have a few weeks of rain, the colony may not have enough honey to maintain the heat in their hive at 35 degrees. Or, they may not have enough food to feed their colony. So we don’t take any honey from the bees unless the bees have a lot extra.”

On a good year, Amber Drop Honey’s bees produce 100-120 kg of honey per hive.

Martin tells SBS she uses the honey in her kitchen to make saganaki – a traditional Greek dish of pan-fried cheese drizzled with honey.

She also ferments garlic in honey. “Honey that is fermented with garlic is really amazing and the garlic that’s [encased] in honey feels soft. If you're making pizza with blue cheese and salami, for example, you can use the fermented garlic cloves and then drizzle the honey, flavoured with garlic, over the top. It's unbelievable.”

Although Martin is extremely proud of her honey, she plays a very little role in influencing its tastes once it's produced by her bees.

“Our honey is very good but we don't really do anything to it. It’s raw. But because our honey comes from a big variety of locations and flowers, it always has a different taste throughout the year depending on the season.”

Martin notes that if you always buy your honey from a supermarket, made to a standardised recipe on a large scale, you may not be aware of raw honey’s seasonal flavours.

“Sometimes it's lighter; sometimes it's darker; sometimes it has a sweeter flavour, and sometimes has a deeper flavour. That’s just how a fresh apple or lemon would taste at different times of the year if you ate it fresh from the farm.

“Depending on where it’s from and when it’s picked, it will taste different. But it will always be delicious.”

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