There’s a reason “Follow the Honey,” in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is not just a simple honey store. For founder and owner Mary Canning, traveling the world on her personal journey led her to open a shop filled with honey stories to tell, and products with a conscience.
In Search of Healing and Bees
Canning had always been a natural storyteller — working in the field of documentary filmmaking for programs such as Frontline and NOVA. But after suffering the loss of her first husband to cancer and the death of her mother, her life changed course. While searching for ways to enable healing, she discovered a fascination with bees. “They were healing to be around,” Canning says. She did an apprenticeship in Massachusetts for two years in which she learned all about bees, from harvesting and stewardship, to raising the queens. She bottled her locally sourced raw honey and sold it at farmers markets.
Her research led her to a woman in India considered a “matriarch of healing and economic development in this realm,” and Canning traveled to see her. By the time she returned and started her brick and mortar shop, Follow the Honey, her mission was clear and multi-layered: source honey that’s delicious and clean, but source it from people who are having trouble getting into the marketplace, and use the honey as a method for storytelling—in particular telling their stories. Before Canning knew it, she’d created a “community hive” of her own.
Canning runs the shop with her now-husband Ingo Winzer and daughter Caneen, the store’s art director. Stopping in allows you to taste test from the “Raw Honey Bar,” described as a way for your palette to be “tickled by a magic carpet ride taste of varietals and multi-florals from around the world.” And because they typically stock more than 100 different types of honeys from around the world at any one time, what a ride it is. In addition to tasting, you may also learn about where the honey came from, and often, what kind of difference is being made in the community as a result of this product making it into the marketplace.
The products come from local farmers as well as from places as far away as Africa, India and Zambia. Whether it’s an avocado blossom honey from Grenada, honey from the plants in Tanzania, or one of their most popular honeys—a white honey called Kaiwe-super creamy that comes from Hawaii—each one has a unique taste and story behind it. Regardless of where the honey is from, each batch will taste different as a result of the different flowers the bees have visited along the way to and from the hive. “None of the honeys are infinite… We need more bee humility,” Canning says. Learning it takes approximately 1,125 bees foraging 2-million flowers to make a pound of honey, helps you appreciate what you’re tasting.
Those Busy Bees
If you don’t think your kids will be interested in engaging, perhaps you need to give them some examples of cool stuff they may see and learn about. For instance, bees have two stomachs, honey is essentially “bee throw-up” (gross but sweet) and to produce two pounds of honey, a bee travels a distance equal to four times around the earth.
Out back on “The Nectar Deck,” there are actual hives, and the deck is open for weekly community gatherings, readings, music and more. Honey on tap is served for those who want to pour their own locally sourced. While visiting with my daughter, Canning showed us a number of new queen bees that had been sent to her via airmail.
Canning encourages customers to think of honey both as a food group and for medicinal purposes. For example, Manuka honey has been demonstrated to be an antiseptic and is used in masks and moisturizers. There are bee venom masks (like the ones Kate Middleton uses) that help tighten skin.
There’s also plenty of other bee-inspired products (“apis melliferous bling” on the website) including beeswax candles, books about bees, pure pollen, and honey infused salves.
As Canning continues traveling the world, so do the bees. As Canning says, when it comes to bees and honey, “The sky is the limit.”