We sat down with Anne Cole, our neighbor here in Santa Barbara, and collaborator on our new Honey & Cornbread Cookies flavor, to learn more about the business of bees. We chat about her family-owned honey company, San Marcos Farms, and learn why bees like it here on the central California coast about as much as we do.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your business? History? Why...?
San Marcos Farms has been a family-owned-and-operated beekeeping business since the mid-1980s. Our mission is to produce the highest quality honey, bee pollen and beeswax available. We are based both in Santa Barbara and Buellton, California. Our “honey house” is near the Santa Barbara Airport. At this location, we bring in the honeycombs from the field for extracting, and also bottle the honey, clean and package the bee pollen, and make beeswax candles.
Our bees are located on farms and ranches in the Goleta foothills and near the Santa Ynez wine country and Figueroa Mountain. In Goleta, the bees are used for crop pollination, such as avocados and citrus trees. They are also beneficial for organic row farming, pollinating numerous crops such as strawberries, squashes, melons, beans and peas and many others.
The locations in Santa Ynez are mostly away from agriculture and the bees are foraging in the native plant communities of the mountainous regions. The purpose here is honey production, and on a good rainfall year, this is where we place most of the bees from April to July.
2. Honey. Why?
While many commercial beekeepers focus on pollination, our focus has always been on varietal honey production. Every species of flowering plant that attracts bees and other pollinators produces a unique nectar. The flavor and color of the honey are attributed to that of the original nectar. For example, avocado honey has a dark amber color with a reddish hue and a molasses-like flavor, while orange honey has a light amber color, which varies from light yellow to orange in color, and the flavor is that of the fragrant orange blossoms.
The local wildflower honey will vary with the season, depending on what is blooming at the time, with eucalyptus and pittosporum being prominent in early spring, followed by the native toyon and sumacs in early summer. The local wildflower honey is popular for its delicious caramel flavor as well as its allergy-relieving benefits. The sage honey from the mountains is very light and is prized for its delicate flavor and versatility in use.
3. Is there something special to you about The Central Coast? In terms of honey, but in terms of food as a whole...?
The Central Coast has a unique sub-tropical Mediterranean climate, characterized by mild winter temperatures, which allows for the production of crops year-round. Additionally, the plant communities are extremely diverse, including plants of the native chaparral such as manzanita, ceanothus, and salvias, as well as ornamental flowering shrubs and trees introduced from all over the world. All of this variety of flowering vegetation is favorable for honeybees which enjoy year-round foraging, especially near the coast, where temperatures are mildest.*
*The Central Coast of California hosts many of the country’s beehives as winter sets in throughout the Midwest. Migratory beekeepers move hives in by the truckloads in late fall, as the lucrative almond pollination season in the Central Valley approaches.
4. What about this partnership, if anything, makes it special?
We enjoy partnering with other businesses that use our honey in their products. McConnell’s has been around now for several generations and we are very honored that you have created a flavor based on our wildflower honey.
5. You’ve tasted the ice cream. Any thoughts...?
I love the honey flavor in the ice cream, and a cornbread cookie combination is perfect since everyone knows that honey pairs well with cornbread!