Nina Furstenau: You’re listening to Canned Peaches from KBIA. I’m Nina Mukerjee Furstenau.
We’re discovering how communities locally and globally are intertwined through food.
And we’re going out to farms, forests and faraway kitchens to explore food and community through five ingredients.
[sound of buzzing bees]
Have you ever heard the sound of bees?
It’s a sound of hard work, the sound of production, the sound of interconnection.
It’s a hum. A vibration, that goes through you and binds you to something maybe you can’t explain … but you just feel it.
In this episode of Canned Peaches, the ingredient we’re exploring is honey.
And when you explore honey, in many ways you’re exploring the world of sound.
Nina Furstenau: And I’ve experienced that hum firsthand on my farm in mid-Missouri.
Someone else who knows the power of that hum is a Missouri producer and grower, Clay Stem.
Clay Stem: [Laughter] “I wanna get everybody suited up so we can go down before it gets any warmer.”
Our producer Alex Cox and our team visited Clay on a very hot summer morning – they were about to suit up and harvest at his beehives.
Clay Stem: ‘My name’s Clay Stem, and we’re a few miles north of Columbia, at Stem to Table Farm, …”
Nina Furstenau: And Alex you were there with me. Hi Alex.
Alex Cox: Hi Nina. Yes! It was an outrageously hot morning in June, and our team met Clay just after 6am on his small farm just outside of Columbia.
Clay says he always saw farming as something you needed a lot of land and equipment and big tractors to do. But he’s been so happy to find that he can have a big impact on the community and its food sources by farming on his small farm just outside of Columbia. He first operated a microgreen production business, and now he’s moved to beehives and honey.
Nina Furstenau: He sells at the local farmer’s market and to local chefs - and he says it’s a struggle, because producing a local, organic crop is expensive, and it relies on a community to support it. It’s a circle, Clay grows local, organic, sustainable ingredients like honey for the community, and the community supports the operation.
Alex Cox: Just like bees, they feed each other.
Nina Furstenau: That’s right. And one thing every beekeeper we met tells us, you have to be calm before you deal with bees. It forces you to breathe deeply, slow down your heart rate, and get right with yourself before moving to the hives.
[Mock-serious], We were calm, weren’t we Alex?
Alex Cox: Oh we were so calm. I was not thinking of the potential that I might be allergic at all.
Nina Furstenau: So walk into a beautiful, grassy field. You can hear a lot of birds singing and with the surrounding wooded areas and we're walking up to eight hives actually looks like more than eight hives, I have to ask because I see two more in the distance. Blue and White. Really, really inviting actually. So we're we're hearing the birds and the bees just in case I didn't make that clear.”
Alex Cox: - [big laugh!]
Nina Furstenau: I think this is where we should take a deep breath and just relax. Because they're around the hives. We don't want the bees to get too excited.
[sounds of deep breaths]
Clay Stem: You can see how active they already are. I mean as soon as sun's up they stay in the hives all night for the most part. As soon as that sun comes pokin’ out, you can see, they get to work! All right, so we got everything loaded, everybody's suited. We'll head down and rock and roll here.”
[sounds of a car]
[Clay gives detailed description of the way the HIVE works - how amazing it is]
Clay Stem: Well, we're basically gonna get suited up so we can go down and pull honey supers that we have we put so supers are the boxes we harvest. The deep brood boxes are what we leave for the bees, the Supers, we add on and we'll add as many as we possibly can, you know, as many as they'll fill, hopefully. And that's the key to having your hives make it through winter. Because then they're ready, they're ready to go for that early spring flow. And they'll load up on the honey for you, when you're starting hives a little bit later. There's just building up their own resources, and not necessarily filling the extra boxes that as the beekeeper would harvest.
Nina Furstenau: So it's always fascinated me that things just they just make too much they make more than they need.
Clay Stem: They'll fill up that as a beekeeper, it's basically just managing space, so that you give them more space, they will use it. If they don't have enough space, that's a lot of times when they want to swarm. So that's why you kind of have to be ahead of them a little bit.
Nina Furstenau: So you mentioned the word swarm. And this is something you know, a lot of beekeepers will say, ‘I caught a swarm.’ So this brings to mind, we were talking about this on the way over, going out with a butterfly net or something.
Clay Stem: That’s one way you could catch them.
Nina Furstenau: Tell me how you catch a swarm.
Clay Stem: Basically sitting on the trailer over there. It's a big white box. That's what I that's a swarm trap. So basically, I just give them a home to come into, I lured them in that with I burned the wood because it's kind of like a burned out tree cavity. Also use a little bit of lemongrass oil and drawn frames of drawn comb that those three things right there have I've had 100% success this year, particularly we went ahead this winter and built more traps. We've only ever had one. And usually I just get calls and go Go catch him. But this year, we put seven traps out and we've got seven swarms.
Nina Furstenau: What is the sound do for you? I mean, do you ever sit and just listen to...
Clay Stem: Oh, it's, it's no, it's you fill in your soul. I feel like I mean, it's, uh, it's hard to explain. I mean, I'll have that buzzing in my ear for hours afterwards. And I don't know if that does anything on a molecular, you know, level. But it's intense, you know, because you're looking at, we're gonna open hives that easily have 40 to 80,000 bees in them. And so that's a lot of bees that are buzzing all around. And we just want to try to keep them as happy as possible while we're invading their home. Because that's what we're doing. You know, I mean, we are, I can say as a beekeeper we're just managing space. So they're just, if they want to leave, they can leave. We can't fit them in. So we want to try to keep them happy and comfortable and healthy.
Alex Cox: Hanging out with Clay Stem really shows the challenges of beekeeping are the challenges about our food right now.
Things are scarce, which makes things expensive. Clay says it’s too expensive to do what he does without the support of the community showing up to the farmer’s market to buy his honey. He even has his family pitch in. We've met his son, Chase, there.
Nina Furstenau: Working away.
Alex Cox: Working away indeed.
Nina Furstenau: This idea of community brings us to a really special organization that embodies this idea that we’re exploring so much in this podcast - that we’re exploring so much in this podcast - about how food connects us. It’s just a powerful thing to gather around.
Nina Furstenau: Rustic Roots Sanctuary is a farm in Spanish Lake, near St. Louis north county- it convenes people around food, but with something very specific in mind: Making change. Advocates, activists, foodies, chefs, beekeepers and producers and those who want to learn all of the above gather at Rustic Roots, and they talk about food, elderflower champagne, experience meditation through sound baths and they also talk about injustices and crimes that are associated with land that has created a rift felt by Black and brown people and the land that can sustain us. So as they’re enjoying food and growing and planting and beekeeping they also talk about changing the system.
Alex Cox: Our beloved producer Lauren Hines-Acosta was there, and she was not spared from the heat.
[Lauren] Oh my god it’s so hot
- that was Lauren you heard there but she stuck it out.
And she listened in on some incredible conversations - people were visiting from all over the world to talk about food justice and equity - and about giving back to the land in ways that that can sustain and heal us. They talk a lot about healing, at Rustic Roots.
Finding healing in the land, in the hum of their beehives, in the way that nourish and sustain us.
Like Clay Stem, Janett Lewis also talks about the need to be grounded and calm before you even think about going out with the bees.
[sounds from Rustic Roots, birdsong, rainstick, softly banging a gong]
Janett Lewis: The bees are very sensitive to our energies when we go in the hive. So we usually take off our shoes and do grounding exercises and take like three cleansing grounding breaths before we enter the hives. And usually when that's done first there, there's more of a hum like bzzzz in the hives where you know they're like, satisfied and feeling good.
It’s magic inside the hives. The smell in there just calms you down. And the humming. You can listen to the bees and understand when they’re upset. You can listen and understand when they’re happy. There’s all these different buzzes they do. And it’s just very magic. There’s waggle dances they can do to communicate. There's fanning when they're alerting that the Queen's over here are the Queen's out of the hive. And so there's all of these nonverbal cues that bees are giving, and if you learn to listen to the bees, you will really really understand them.
You have to really slow down and be centered when you go into the bees.
[Lewis is leading a tour]
Janett Lewis: So yes, it's delicious. And it also is going to make a nice little barrier. So what we're trying to do is create a windbreak for the bees, because the north eastern wind gets rough in the winter time. So if the bees don't have some sort of structure, a lot of the times they can freeze, we have a little orchard over there where those like middle sized trees are growing, we've got peaches, persimmons, Jujubee P cans. There's fig trees in there.
[sounds of bees and the orchard]
Hi, my name is Janett. I'm the founder and executive director of Rustic Roots sanctuary. And today we have welcomed the roots and remedies 2023 conference into our space and hosted them with a delicious farm to table meal.
My goals with Rustic Roots sanctuary are to heal trauma in nature, and basically liberate people from systemic racism and the conditions of living in low to middle income areas and not having access to food.
So my honey and bee operation is basically I want to say four to five years old. I have been beekeeping. And I've also run a beekeeping mentorship program for two years that was very successful. It was all women that came to the space to learn lessons from the hive.
And it's kind of a female empowerment theme. Because most of the bees I think only 13% are drone, and that is the male bees. And then everything else is done by the women. So the rest of the hive is female. And the females protect the young, they feed the young, they do everything they tend to the Queen, they are the warriors that will shoot out in your face when you open the hive and defend the hive. And so it's just like everything in the hive is pretty much done and maintained by females.
And the males have pretty much a solitary purpose, which is to breed the Queen, once they breed with the Queen, they die. And so it's kind of sad for the guys.
But it's definitely one of those things where you feel very empowered as a woman like look what we can do when we collaborate and come together. And so I always look at the hive as like a collective.
I think it connects people in a really special way. Like for one thing. I mean, they say like the way to a woman's heart is through her stomach. Like I always have to bring in these old cliches. But I'm like, really the way to anyone's heart is through their stomach. So I mean it if you eat something delicious, and it makes you feel a certain way, you're just like, huh, that feeling is like one of the most pleasure pleasurable experiences you can have. Right?
So like when we provide this fresh food to our community, like we've had people say, ‘This okra is the best okra I've had in 60 years since I moved from Mississippi.’ And so I know that we're not only is it connecting us to them, but it's connecting them to them. Like it's bringing back all of these experiences that they've had throughout their lives with food that now just a bite of okra can bing pop somebody back 63 years or whatever to wherever they were before and be like, ‘Wow, that's what okra was.’
I was just seeing like a lot of love growing like, honestly, when I first got here, there was a lot of people feeling super hopeless about it. Because there's no fresh food access. There's no jobs, there's a lot of nothing going on up here.
So I figured, well, you know, I can start making something in my own backyard. And that's basically how all of this grew. It was just like, Spanish Lake is lacking so much. And if we can do this experiment where we just love a lot of people with food and grow food for them and care for them, what would that do for a community that's like this?
We've created this alternative home for our community and they love it and they feel ownership of it and they help us make our decisions and direct our trajectory. So it's pretty awesome.
[sounds of laughter and talking]
Just kind of look both ways at everything that’s growing, if you have any questions just ask us!
[sounds of talking]
I’m super proud of this little area because this is my three sisters’ garden, and there’s corn, and I’m growing butternut squash and pumpkins down to be a ground cover there. We're supposed to be rattlesnake beam. But they're trying.
[Lewis is back in the interview]
Growing food is everything.
And so I think my first lessons, even though I didn’t think about it much at the time or make a big deal out of it, but my grandfather inherited a 164-acre plantation in Georgia. And on that land, he had seven kids that worked the land. And from that land, he fed his whole family like it it sustained his whole entire life. It definitely started occurring to me once I got here and got this piece of land, that now I can feed a whole community with this little plot of land that I have, so it’s empowering.
And I always think about the way our relationship to the land has been fractured by the crimes that were committed on the land against Black and brown people. So all of these in justices, all of this trauma that's like ancestral trauma, it’s deep within our bodies when these things have happened to our ancestors. And so now, the worst part about that crime that happened is we've turned away from the land and forgotten that it heals us. And so that's one of the things that I want to bring people back to that, like the truth, that nature is the greatest healer and if we’re willing to do the work and tend to the land that we can feed ourselves and heal ourselves and our families and our communities.
[sound of bell chimes and moment of silence, follwed by meditative music]
[sound of the studio - Alex and Nina]
Nina Furstenau: Wow. I feel much calmer just listening to that, Alex.
Alex Cox: Yeah soothing sounds and powerful words really have a way of making you calmer.
And I just love the way Janett Lewis and group of producers and beekeepers at Rustic Roots connect that meditative calm to the energy of the bees, and the collective. She says - beehives show what we can do when we get together.
Let's take a moment to reflect how pervasive food is in our culture. The image of food evokes more than taste. It gives insight to history, place and identity and literature shows how connected food can be to all those and more. Let's listen to an excerpt from Sue Monk Kidd’s book The Secret Life of Bees.
“You hear that?” she said, a sound rushed up a perfect hum high pitched and swollen like someone had put the tea kettle on and it had come to a boil.
“They're cooling the hives down,” she said, and her breath broke over my face with the swell of spearmint. “That's the sound of 100,000 bee wings fanning the air.”
She closed her eyes and soaked in the way you imagine people at a fancy orchestra concert drinking up high brow music. I hope it's not too backward to say that I felt like I had never heard anything on my Hi Fi back home that came out that good. You would have to hear it yourself to believe the perfect pitch. The harmony parts how the volume rolled up and down.
We had our ears pressed to a giant music box. The whole side of my face started to vibrate as if the music had rushed into my pores. I can see August’s skin pulsing the tiniest bit. When we stood back up my cheek trickled in etched.
“You were listening to be air conditioning,” August said. “Most people don't have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside the hive. Bees have a secret life we don't know anything about.”
Nina Furstenau: So that soothing and calming that both Clay Stem and Janett Lewis talk about is something that a veteran might encounter differently. For Sheri Carter - she says that soothing and calming and that buzz can be powerful for someone with PTSD.
In Mount Vernon, the University of Missouri’s Southwest Research Center hosts a program called Heroes to Hives. It connects and supports veterans who are running beekeeping operations. We met Sheri Carter, and about five other veteran beekeepers at MU’s research farm in Mount Vernon, Missouri on summer Saturday.
Alex Cox: We toured this farm - on a tractor. jumped over a live electric fence, and hung off the back of a wagon for some good audio.
Nina Furstenau: It was poetry in motion.
[sound of dog barking and a tractor]
Alex Cox: Yes it was, Nina. And our producer Janet Saidi talked with Jay Chism. He is the director of Southwestern Research Extension and Education Center, he gave us a proper hay ride tour.
[sounds of tractor]
Jay Chism: You'll miss a pretty good view of the farm on this side of the interstate, which is nice, because if you look over this way, we have an organic project where we it's kind of hard to tell, but if you look, you can kind of see some corn over there. Right? See that corner over there. Okay, that's an organic project. It's where we're doing it with the University of Arkansas and Winrock International out of Arkansas.
Janet Saidi: What is the importance of community when you're doing this stuff?
Jay Chism: To me, it's just people helping people.
[bee buzzing noises]
Alex Cox: We also met Sherry Carter, she's an Army veteran who says beekeeping has gotten her out of her isolation, and helps her keep going with a service related disability.
Sheri Carter: I am a hundred percent disabled. And so we to go into more detail. I've tried to find ways to run the farm accessibly. I was skeptical i’d say, when I heard it was therapeutic, but it really is because you do need to kind of stay calm, work things methodically, you know, and just, it's calming, and just their tone.
And there's a lot of science, I'm sure behind that. I don't know, I don't know about but I know that their tone kind of helps you regulate your heartbeat and that kind of thing. So there's a lot of scientific evidence to show that that really is helpful for people with PTSD and anxiety and that kind of thing. So it really is helpful to go out there. And it's soothing and calming.
And their tone goes up and down. And you kind of just i don't i It's hard to explain. But it is very interesting to go out. And you can just hear that going on. And they you can tell they're when their excitement level goes up and all of that. So yeah, that's it's interesting to go out there.
Janet Saidi: You become attuned to become a listener to bees I suppose.
[sound of pasture, fence clinking]
Jay Chism: "Ok we’re gonna turn around and go back to the dairy"
Nina Furstenau: Oh look at all the butterflies - Can you smell that? And look at all the butterflies on this one sprig alone! So how many do you think?
[sound of buzzing at the Heroes to Hives apiary]
Sheri Carter: I would just say, overall, it's gotten me out of the house, I think eventually it'll be an outlet. Like I was saying before, it's therapeutic to work your hive, I haven't really had that much experience or working it as much as I probably could utilize for therapeutic use. But just getting out of the house, being here and socializing, it's been very helpful for me because I tend to isolate. And if I get depressed or anything I tend to isolate and then I have to really just work really hard to get away from that.
And so this really has gotten me out to meet new people and learn a new skill which is great to have. And just being able to share that with other people. Like I was saying I kind of now I feel kind of like a mentor. Even though I'm still learning myself. I can point people in the right direction to just you know, get plugged into certain programs that might help them in the long run too.
Janet Saidi: That feels good.
Sheri Carter: Yeah. Oh, helping, helping is healing. I mean, it really is.
Alex Cox: Thanks to Jay Chism, Kirk Tener, Sheri Carter and field specialists Amy Patillo at MU Southwest Research Farm for showing us around.
Nina Furstenau: It was amazing. Everywhere we go on this podcast we asked people do you want to cook with us? And the Heroes to Hives veterans and their organizer Amy did so we got some honey and made a delicious stir fry chopping and prepping and talk singing and laughing and of course eating together.
Alex Cox: Man, I really want some stir fry right now.
Nina Furstenau: It was so good.
[sound of cooking stir fry]
Nina Furstenau: Okay, just really briefly, I'll tell you who I am and what we're going to try and do. What we're gonna try and do okay, I picked up a recipe you'll see in front of each chopping board that is teriyaki stir fry, mainly because you may not think to use honey in that and since we just visited hives with all that lovely honey being made, this is a good way to bring it into your kitchen.
Nina Furstenau: I love hearing Sheri talking about how the communities of bees have led to community and connection for these veterans.
Alex Cox: Yeah, it was so nice. We cooked alongside with them too. And that was just such a good way to learn all of these very kind people.
Nina Furstenau: You learn the most about people in their kitchens and helping make their favorite foods or any foods actually.
Nina Furstenau: It's time to come get your stir fry and it looks like a lot of foods already out on the tables but come and get the hot stuff.
Heroes to Hives veteran: This is really good. Looks good. Smells good. Doesn’t that smell good?
Janet Saidi: It does smell good. I haven't eaten it no, go.
Heroes to Hives veteran: Thank you very much.
Nina Furstenau: Thank you guys very much.
Nina Furstenau: When we first started this podcast, our team and I found that food - ingredients - are something that connects us, to our past, to our histories, to each other - and so we decided to ask all of the people we met, how does food connect you? How does honey connect you?
After a while, talking with people like Army veteran Sheri Carter, we realized that we don’t even have to ask that question. Whether people like Clay Stem or Janett Lewis at Rustic Roots or Sheri Carter in southern Missouri are beekeeping, or growing peaches, or cooking stir fry, it’s always about gathering with other people and coming together, through food.
Like Sheri says, it’s getting us out of isolation, getting us maybe even out of depression, and getting us together.
Canned Peaches is produced by Lauren Hines-Acosta, Janet Saidi, and me, Nina Mukerjee Furstenau, with production help from Yasha Mikolojczak and Alex Cox.
The series is written by Lauren Hines-Acosta and Janet Saidi.
Our editor is Aaron Hay.
Thanks to Alex Cox for co-hosting this episode with me.
Canned Peaches is a project of the Missouri News Network at the Missouri School of Journalism, Vox Magazine, Harvest Public Media. And KBIA.
Our engagement and outreach team is led by Jessica Vaughn Martin, Kassidy Arena, and Professor Kara Edgerson.
Special thanks to Harvest Public Media’s Maria Altman, Vox Magazine’s Heather Isherwood, and the Missouri School of Journalism’s Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies Professor Kathy Kiely.
Canned Peaches is produced with support from Missouri Humanities and the Missouri Humanities Trust Fund.
On Canned Peaches we’re exploring how we’re all connected through the food on our plates.
For more episodes, go to KBIA dot org.
And you can see more stories from Canned Peaches at VoxMagazine.com.
I’m Nina Mukerjee Furstenau. Thanks for listening. See you next time.