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<b>Down South, Out West</b><br><i>Sir Bob Harvey’s son Fraser walks New Zealand’s Karekare<br>Photo by Dana Edmunds</i>
Vol. 17, no. 5
October/November 2014

 

Hanai Hives 
Story By: Larry Lieberman
Photos By: Olivier Koning 

Marilyn Carlsmith is a retired Honolulu judge who at the moment is winding her way along a heavily wooded back road just outside of Hilo, the town where she grew up. Carlsmith wears a yellow plumeria behind her ear and an excited grin on her face. She’s bound for “her” beehive at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s Agricultural Farm Laboratory, a hive she’s about to see for the first time. The hive was adopted— “hanaied” as they say in Hawai‘i—in her name last year, a Christmas gift from her daughter and son-in-law in Greenwich, Connecticut. “Growing up in Hilo, we always had beehives,” Carlsmith says as she drives, recalling her childhood in the 1940s. “One or two in the backyard. I would help my father tend them. We always had honey!” But it’s now been decades since she’s tended a hive.

Shortly after she arrives at the farm, Carlsmith prepares to say hello to her bees. Out in a field next to hundreds of papaya trees, under a clear blue sky, stand dozens of white boxes, one of which literally has her name on it: a red plaque that reads “Marilyn Carlsmith.” Inside the box, more than ten thousand bees await their benefactor. All it took to bring them together was a little creativity, a little passion and the hand of a famous chef.

That chef is Alan Wong. He was still in college—circa 1970s—when he first crossed paths with a fellow student named Lorna Tsutsumi. The two became friends, but both were young and busy and they lost track of each other. Wong went on to international acclaim as a pioneer of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, and Tsutsumi set her sights on smaller things — smaller, faster moving and with more legs. She earned her doctorate at UH Manoa in entomology and returned to her native Hilo to teach beekeeping at UH Hilo; over the next three decades she built one of the most successful and sustainable apiary operations in the state.

Wong, meanwhile, became an ever-more-dedicated farm-to-table advocate, with restaurant menus that highlighted crops grown by local farmers. “Honey is one of the purest of all foods,” he says, “but bees are important for so much more than making honey. A lot of people don’t realize that bees are directly responsible for a huge percentage of the food we eat.” Wong had read about the alarming decline in bee populations worldwide, and he realized that if something weren’t done to help save the bees, there could be a dramatic disruption to the world’s food supply; in an island ecosystem the vulnerability was even more extreme. “When you change the food supply, you change the menu,” says the restaurateur; more than 130 different fruit and vegetable crops—including, just for starters, macadamia nuts, lemons and avocados — depend directly or indirectly on healthy bee populations. If there are no bees to pollinate crops, the reasoning goes, a domino effect ensues that can result in the collapse of the food chain. Wong decided to find a way to help.

In 2009 he was on a visit to the Chef’s Garden in Ohio, a small, family-owned farm noted for working directly with America’s top chefs to cultivate unusual herbs and vegetables. “They had their own beehives,” Wong recalls, “and a program where the public could get involved in promoting beekeeping by adopting a hive. I came back to Hawai‘i inspired to try something similar here.” It turned out Wong’s friend, graphic artist Kurt Osaki, knew someone who might be able to help. “Kurt told me about a UH Hilo professor of beekeeping, and when he said it was Lorna Tsutsumi, I couldn’t believe it!” Wong laughs.

Tsutsumi was thrilled to hear from her former schoolmate, and the two began work to create a program that would combine education, philanthropy, community and, of course, deliciousness. In 2011 the public-private Adopt-a-Beehive with Alan Wong partnership was officially born. “We started with just eight hives, and now there are sixty-five!” beams Tsutsumi today. With a superstar chef involved, it was a cinch to get people interested; the Adopt-a-Beehive program now has close to a million bees and has raised more than $150,000. “Our servers at the restaurants offer guests honey from the farm as an alternative sweetener for their coffee or tea and inform them about the Adopt-a-Beehive program,” explains Wong. The restaurant’s web site is another way people find their way into the mix; that’s how Carlsmith’s family discovered the opportunity.

 
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