Jennifer Wardrip, Reservationist, Alan Wong's Honolulu

The Adopt a Beehive’s Sustainable Event at UH Hilo brought a small team of us with Chef Alan to the Big Island this Saturday, March 10, 2012. It was in honor of the inaugural year of the program and an invitation to adopters and public alike to discover its development, and support awareness to the honeybees and their impact. We left Honolulu on a morning flight to Hilo, each carrying a small boxed bundle of cornbread to be given at the event, along with other honey inspired items. 

Arriving on the Big Island, the warm damp air wrapped welcomingly around us and we drove through a cloudy, drizzling morning to the University of Hawaii Hilo’s agriculture farm. The grounds here are beautiful, everything breathing life, surrounded by thick flora and vegetation. There are clear sided greenhouses and grassy fields, and an apiary of beehives; stacked wooden boxes that hold frames of honeybees living and building their honeycomb. Everything is thriving and flourishing as the morning gives patches of heavy rain or otherwise damp, misty air. We set up our things and get ready to start.

The pavilion fills with tables of interactive beekeeping processes, information of their importance, along with skep and mead making and our food. Meaningful thank-yous are given and a presenting of scholarships to three of the University’s students working with the bee-keeping program. It’s fondly directed by Dr. Lorna Tsutsumi, professor of bee-keeping and agricultural courses, and she is teamed with Chef Alan in this inventive program. Her dedication and influence is evident in the students and in her presence - it feels exciting to be here, exposed to their missions and innovative purposes.

Afterwards, we have the chance to get into bee-keeping suits to visit the hives! We each cover up in the full-body suits, taping around our ankles and wrists to ensure there is no access to a possible wandering bee. It is thrilling to be so close to them and to open the hives, to have the bees buzzing right around you. At first I feel a little panicky, as every other time I’ve encountered a bee involved me stepping quickly out of its way to avoid a sting. But once you overcome a fear, you can become something new, and there is a type of freedom that is gained. It allows you to learn something on a different unrestricted level. It became rewarding to me then, just to assist in placing frames into their hives and to help with their meaningful intention.

With the rest of our day, we make a trip to Honokaa to visit the small goat dairy farm where we get our cheese used in the restaurant. Driving an hour along the coast gives such striking and beautiful views as we pass through rich green forests on either side of the road, prominent black rocks covered in bright moss, and turning each bend with dramatic ocean or canyon vistas. We leave the warm blanketing air to a crisp and cool temperature as we ascend onto the roads that lead to the Hawaii Island Goat Dairy Farm.

When we arrive, milking goats are lounging in the hay lined loofing area under the barn. They all look peaceful and happy, showing evidence that the farm is cared for well and with love. We each try our turn in milking (actually much more difficult than I expected!) and are able to feed the baby goats bottles of milk. The small one-week-old kids are so eager and lively, anxiously sucking on a finger if they could hold onto one, and so excited to have milk and be played with. Outside, the grassy pastures have thick green forests resting behind them and white goats roaming and grazing peacefully. When I walk near to the divider, one looks up at me, head tilted to the side and squinting for a minute like he might’ve recognized me.

We’re able to see the cheese room, and they explain to us how their cheese is made, bundles of it hanging in cloth tied to a rod above their cheese table. They offer a variety of their gorgeous cheeses we could taste, including their sought after Big Island Feta, a special reserve of a “Govarti” cheese, and their soft fresh cheeses. I taste it all gratefully, enjoying it much more than I thought I would with their bright clean and creamy flavors, also enjoying a taste of some very lovely wine that was brought. 

It is so satisfying to be out here, a breath away from the bustling sense of Oahu and into the spirit and solace of these peaceful places. To gain perspective of land and a respect for food, I realize it is so valuable to visit and speak with people who run a farm, someone who would work in harmony with land and life. The stories and way they speak of things makes me come to realize a little more of the human endeavor, that it is so rewarding to do what you love, and in result you will do it well and with success.

We left the Big Island on an evening flight back and the trip has left me feeling pensive and recharged. Having the experience of a meaningful day behind me, I was fortunate to gain an appreciation and new perspective through the lens of a goat dairy farmer and a honeybee.

-- Jennifer Wardrip