Press & Projects
Canning's 'Follow The Honey' Venture Thriving
By BRIAN GELINAS, ADN Staff Reporter
ORANGE — Something sweet is abuzz at the Orange Innovation Center.
Since July, owner and “queen bee” Mary Canning has been operating a makerspace for her Follow The Honey venture, with the assistance of “worker bees” Ally Fraser and Tim Slater. The two “bees” are eleventh grade students at Mahar and began working for Canning as paid Community Action interns over the summer.
The inspiration for Follow The Honey came in 2008, when Canning traveled to southern India and viewed first-hand the issue of persons living in poverty being addressed, in part, via beekeeping. She had already been a Massachusetts beekeeper herself for about two years, following the passing of her first husband.
In addition to the makerspace, Canning also operates a Follow The Honey retail outlet at Harvard Square in Cambridge. The outlet opened in 2011 on National Honeybee Day, noted Canning during a recent interview.
The company’s mission is to foster worldwide business relationships “that stimulate economic development through ‘human rights’ honeys that are made from a variety of plants. As a part of that endeavor, the company established a sustainable partnership with the Tanzanian government to bring premium asali — the Swahili word for honey — to the United States. Canning said honey obtained from Tanzania is produced via a network of 15,000 farmers.
At the same time, Follow The Honey strives to tell the stories of the makers behind the various honeys both sold and used in the honey-infused products developed by the company. “Follow The Honey is really about stories, and telling the maker stories,” said Canning.
The makers of which Canning speaks include many local and regional honey producers. “We’re creating jobs,” she said.
Canning, a keeper in Warwick, said she has yet to harvest, sell and use honey from her own bees. However, she anticipates that will happen next spring.
A sample beehive is on display in the OIC’s developing LaunchSpace, and Canning is hoping to have working hives at the Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield that will be tended to by inmates. “From perpetrate to pollinate,” said Canning, noting it is important to give people options in their lives.
Similarly, opportunity has been afforded Fraser and Slater, who have continued their employment at Follow The Honey beyond their internships. More than just offering a paycheck, their jobs allow them the chance to experiment and develop their own products for the company. They also assist with other tasks, such as creating and printing labels, doing other computer work, and helping to check on hives.
Commenting on his work with Follow The Honey, Slater said, “Literally, it’s my favorite thing in the whole world.”
Fraser echoed that sentiment, saying, “I love this job. We got placed together, incidentally, through [the] internship over the summer through Community Action, which does a lot through Mahar, Athol, Turners and Greenfield. This was Mary’s first year in the program.”
Following on Fraser’s comments, Canning noted it was North Quabbin Trails Association President Bobby Curley who encouraged her to consider employing shared interns. “He approached me and we signed up together to share Community Action interns,” she said.
Lauding Fraser and Slater’s commitment and job performance, Canning said, “They’re just proving to be so multi-talented and motivated. We just make things up every day.”
Allen Young profiled the pair in an Athol Daily News Inside/Outside column over the summer. At the time, the two were photographed in beekeeper suits checking on hives. “They jumped right in and have been sort of learning on the go,” said Canning.
Fraser and Slater added their short time with Follow The Honey has them both eyeing possible careers related to bees.
The OIC location, the Cambridge store and the company’s website (www.followthehoney.com) all offer a variety of products, from a wide selection of honeys from around the world, to honey-infused products, such as beeswax candles, soaps, skin care salves and lip balms. Among the newest offered are glass hope stones that can be worn as talismans.
“I call them honey hope stones,” said Canning, explaining that honey is mixed with the glass when the stones are produced.
Noting the coming holiday and gift-giving season, Canning added gift boxes containing a sampling of products are available in different sizes and at different prices. Among the items included in the gifts boxes are candles, soaps, lip balm and honey-sweetened chocolates.
Special orders are also accepted. “We take the ‘sting’ out of shopping,” Canning quipped.
Of the product offered, Canning noted that the retail outlet in Cambridge has proven that people will pay a premium price for a premium product. “It really has proven successful in the city,” she said.
Explaining further, Canning said the pricing of the product offered is directly related to the processes required to produce the honeys used.
"It takes 1,125 bees pollinating two million flowers to produce a pound of honey,” said Canning. “The cost should match the reality, given the dwindling bee population.”
Canning added that all honeys are “limited edition” in the sense that their composition is dependent on a variety of factors, including the weather and the environment in which they are created.
Looking ahead, Canning said she hopes to eventually offer mead for sale and mead tastings at the Orange location. To that end, Follow The Honey has begun to produce in small amounts its own mead in a separate location in the basement at OIC.
Days and hours of operation at the Orange site are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, from 3 to 6 p.m.