By Arielle Esteban
Walking down Harvard Avenue, a blackboard sign greets you with neon-colored chalk. The neon marks are bright and catch your eye as you make your way down the cobblestone path. The words read: “Follow the Honey: Local & World Raw Honey on Tap!”
Follow the Honey—a quaint little shop that lies beneath green steps in Harvard Square. The shop window has a display of a bee’s anatomy, with black markers pointing to its thorax and words spelling: Apis mellifera, which, as noted by one of their shopkeepers, is Latin for “the western honey bee”.
Upon arriving in the shop, you are greeted with folk music and the sweet scent of honey, as well as all things honey and bee-related. Shelves and rows of handcrafted beeswax in the style of candles and candlesticks sat atop across the shop’s tiny space with an array of other items ranging from honey bee figurines and flowers, to Mason jars of different sizes filled with differently colored honey, and even wall art featuring horses or the sun and moon.
Metal canisters stand at the end of the store filled with honey on tap and available for purchase. Two smiling and fresh-faced “Hive Managers,” Gwen and Tate, greet customers with updates on newly stocked honey and offers to try out honey tasting at their raw bar.
Tate, one of the Hive Managers, proudly states that their honey and goods are sourced from “the most transparent beekeepers and artisans,” citing that their beeswax goods are from merchants who “use 100% pure beeswax” and their honey is “pesticide-free.”
One of Follow the Honey’s specialty is having three types of honey available: local, national, and international. Their availability varies throughout the seasons but currently the shop features White Gold honey from Massachusetts, the Louisiana atchafalaya honey and Tanzanian honey.
Follow the Honey was co-founded in the summer of 2011 by Mary Canning, a beekeeper, who founded not just the shop in Harvard Square but the organization as well during one of her travels around the world.
It was during one of her travels to Tanzania that Canning discovered her calling in beekeeping and in bee awareness when she talked to beekeepers there about the struggles of keeping up a honey business.
From then on Follow the Honey was born, with the mentality that “so many impoverished countries have resources, but are often the most exploited with beekeepers not being compensated enough.”
It was later in 2012 that the shop was opened in Harvard Square with the bigger idea of sharing raw honey and appreciating bees behind a storefront, and as of August 19th 2017, Follow the Honey would have celebrated its 5th anniversary in conjunction with National Honey Bee Day.
“One of the things that I love about working here at Follow the Honey is that I love bees and I can share that love and educate others about bees and honey, and the whole beekeeping industry,” shares Gwen, one of the Hive Managers.
“A small-scale shop like this is it comes from a place of love—more about the education aspect than just making money, and I like to listen for 3 hours for stories about beekeepers.”
Follow the Honey, with its origins of being an organization, does not simply function as a small-scale shop but instead utilizes its storefront appearance to further drive its mission in educating people about the importance of “human rights honey.”
The store is often host to events where beekeepers and humanitarians can speak about the issues bees and the beekeeping business often face in this day and age, and is also home to “Nectar Deck,” where they invite “local artists and speakers to talk about food systems and the bees.”
“It is almost like our own small community of tight-knit bee lovers and we’re all in it together,” says Gwen. “We just want to share our love for bees to others this way, and because of just how important bees are to us and to our ecosystems—they play such a crucial role.”
The current situation that bees face today is “unlike anything” notes Gwen, citing climate change as one of the biggest for their exponential endangerment because “it [climate change] confuses the bess and it is a real issue because it is February, prime time for pollinating, and yet there are no plants blooming in Boston.”
But while climate change and other factors paint a gray picture for the bees, there have been increased efforts to prevent bees from disappearing.
“There has been an increase in urban beekeeping and movements such as “Save the bees,” to more action being taken to prevent pesticide use on bees and the plants they pollinate, and educating people with bees,” says Gwen. “I am hopeful that what we are doing here at Follow the Honey will help make a difference and change the world of bees for the better.”