Blume Honey Waters founder spreads the word about bees, pollinators
Spring’s arrival brings the return of flowering plants and trees to western Pennsylvania that serve as pollinators for thousands of bees that produce honey to enrich people’s lives.
That’s good news for business owner Michele Meloy Burchfield, co-founder and CEO of Blume Honey Water, who depends on the natural sweetener to flavor her O’Hara-based beverage company’s artisan honey waters.
Blume Honey Water, bottled at Castle Co-Packers, an independent bottling plant in Latrobe, is available in three flavors – Citrus Vanilla, Wild Blueberry and Ginger Zest. The company recently introduced its larger size 16-ounce bottles at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., a major natural food, beverage and supplements trade show.
Burchfield — who started her company in 2016 with former Fox Chapel Area High School and Penn State University classmate Carla Frank — has worked to make Blume Honey Waters available to outlets in Pennsylvania and the Mid Atlantic region, adding Whole Foods, Wholey’s, Market District, Giant Eagle and Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Markets to its growing list of distributors and independent retailers.
A commitment to educate
She also is dedicated to teaching others about the distinction between refined sugar and natural honey.
“Blume made the commitment from day one that we would find a way, even as a startup, to support and educate on the importance of the honeybees and pollinators,” Burchfield says. “Our first step was to educate ourselves on honey and the honeybee.”
They worked with Ron Fessenden, MD, author of “The Honey Revolution: Restoring the Health of Future Generations,” to learn about research validating the health benefits of honey, including lowering the risk for insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
She also learned from beekeepers in Boulder, Colo., and at Burgh Bees, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of urban beekeeping. Burgh Bees works in partnership with Penn State Cooperative Extension to educate beekeepers and promote beekeeping as a vital part of sustainable agriculture.
First urban community apiary
Burgh Bees, based in Homewood, operates the first urban community apiary in the U.S., providing space for bee hives and gardens that serve as pollinators for the bees. A second apiary in Brookline is in the planning stages.
“We work closely with Burgh Bees to help support the community apiary through education and partnerships,” Burchfield says. “We will be placing three Blume Honey Water hives in the apiary this spring as a way to elevate our commitment and also produce a small amount of ‘Blume’ honey.”
Her company also plans to organize a Pop Up Apiary program from late spring through fall with a live observation hive and beekeepers to educate families about honeybees and pollinators. A Pop Up schedule will be posted on the website, www.blumehoneywater.com .
Leader in beekeeping
Certified master beekeeper and author Stephen Repasky of Dormont is president of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association and past-president and one of the co-founders of Burgh Bees. Burchfield says he has been a friend and adviser to Blume Honey Water from its earliest beginnings.
A second generation beekeeper, Repasky helps his father manage 15 colonies of bees at the family farm in Apollo, Armstrong County, in addition to managing 150 colonies through his company, Meadow Sweet Apiaries, including locations in Sewickley, Homestead and at bee colonies housed in three apiaries at Pittsburgh International Airport.
He also holds monthly beekeeping meetings at Fern Hollow Nature Center in Sewickley Heights, where he teaches beekeeping classes.
Repasky says people don’t need to be beekeepers to help with the important task of supporting the local production of honey. They can get involved simply by selecting and planting certain flowering plants that attract bees.
“We point people to perennial flowers that are low maintenance and refer them to local nurseries,” he says. By typing in their zip code at pollinator.org, they also can get recommendations for bee-friendly plants that will do well in their region.
He also recommends that homeowners stop spraying their lawns with pesticides that kill dandelions and clover, two major sources of pollen and nectar for local bees’ honey production.
Certain bees prefer certain seasons, Burchfield says, and others feed off a variety of flowering plants throughout the year.
“This provides us with so many beautifully different flavors of honey, depending on the season,” she says. Seasonal variations include:
Spring honey, the lightest in color and thinnest in consistency. It is often the most flavorful and has very distinctive floral notes.
Summer honey, which is more amber in color with a medium consistency. The taste is often richer and can be slightly acidic, while still floral.
Fall honey, which can range from dark amber to molasses color with a thick consistency. The taste can be as strong as molasses.
Burchfield says her company is committed to using only responsibly sourced pure honey in its honey waters.
“We believe in the power of honey, its quenching hydration and spikeless energy,” she says. “In today’s market of overly sweetened artificial beverages, natural alternatives are few and far between.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.