Why We Are Leaving the Bellingham Farmers Market on June 30

Honesty can be a hindrance to business it seems.  We sell raw honey from naturally-treated, antibiotic-free Washington state hives.  Some of this honey is from our hives here in Whatcom County (northwest Washington state).  Some of this honey is from beekeeper friends, who, like us, feel that chemicals and antibiotics have no place in the hive.

We have been selling these raw honeys at the Bellingham Farmers Market for over a year at both the summer and winter markets with the Market Board’s approval.  Suddenly the Board wants us to remove all our friends’ honeys by June 30.  Because the removal of about 50% of our established product makes attendance at the market economically unviable, we will be leaving the market.

All of our Raw Honeys will still be available at other markets and festivals including Seattle’s Fremont Market, the US mail, and free local delivery.

Free Delivery to locations in the cities of Bellingham, Everson, and Nooksack, plus along the Mt. Baker Highway from Bellingham to Glacier.

We ship nationwide via US Post.  It’s just the cost of the honey and whatever the US postal service charges, no shipping or handling fees.

If you would like to see all of our Raw Honeys from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Washington hives stay at Bellingham Farmers Market; we do have an online petition.

THE BACKGROUND OF OUR DEPARTURE FROM THE BELLINGHAM MARKET:

We are allowed to sell all the raw honeys (ours and our friends) under the rules of the Washington State Farmers Market Association.

We, as sellers of these raw honeys, meet all the printed requirements to sell these honeys under the Bellingham Farmers Market’s Bylaws and Vendor Requirements.

If we had followed a standard practice in honey sales and did not state the source of our raw honey on every label, implying that the honeys were from our hives, we could have continued to sell the honey.  We would have never have been questioned.

However, we feel that customers should know the source of their honey, and that all beekeepers, including ourselves and our friends, should be acknowledged for our hard work in maintaining hives using only natural treatments and no antibiotics.

Sadly, in this area, the “norm” is for beekeepers to purchase honey from other beekeepers but label it as their own honey.   In fact, I know of only one other beekeeper in this area who, like us, insists on labeling the honey she sells at her Whidbey Island Farmers Markets with the name and location of the apiary that produced the honey.

THE STORY

The first reason the Bellingham Farmers Market Board gave was incorrect.

The Board sent us a letter that said that we in violation of Washington State Farmers Market Association rules.

This surprised me, so I called the Farmers Market Association.  A representative asked about the source of our honey, how it was processed to keep it raw, and about our labeling.

She then told me that we are perfectly in line with the Associations’ rules.

The Bellingham Farmers Market Board Tries To Find Another Reason To Remove Our Honeys

We pointed out that we were obeying the Association rules to the Bellingham Farmers Market Board President.  She acknowledged that we were correct.  Then she said : “The letter misspoke.”

(Side note: Beware of typed and signed letters. They are apparently taking their revenge for all our emails. Letters now speak, or misspeak for themselves – rather than represent the people who write and sign the letters.)

I then asked the Board President: “If the reason you gave was not valid, then why do you want us to remove the honeys?

Her answer stunned me:  “That’s what we’re trying to work out.”

There was no reason.  They just wanted our honeys gone.

You Can’t Fight Feelings

The Board then decided that they “felt” that we did not meet their requirements as food processors.  Our Bellingham Market designation has been food processors because we sell our own raw honeys, and also process our friends’ raw honeys while keeping the honeys raw.  This can be a bit tricky, time consuming, and requires knowledge and skill.

We take 650 pound barrels of our friends’ solid Raw Honey and through a laborious series of warm rooms, warming blankets, and water baths, which never exceed 100F, create bottles of Raw Honey from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Hives our customers, can use at home.

None of our friends’ raw honeys are available in “kitchen size” containers in any local farmers markets, except where we sell, and my friend who sells on Whidby Island.

Still confused as to why we were not considered farmers/food processors, we asked the Board President for a statement of the requirements and regulations we were not meeting.

The Board President never stated any requirements. She only said that there was already honey at the market.

We pointed out that we are the only sellers of Raw Honeys from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Washington hives at the Bellingham Farmers Market.

It did not matter. The decision was final.  In the end, the removal of our friends’ Raw Honeys from Naturally Treated, Antibiotic-Free Washington hives is based on the Board’s “feelings.”

Unanswered Questions

The above all took place over a three-month period.  With three letters from the Board and a letter and an email from us.  You can read the correspondence at our Walking-Wild.com site the Board, and the Board receiving one letter and an email from us. (You – Warning, their letters are about a page long. My answers range from four to seven pages – I thought they wanted details and needed to understand our process.  Turns out they weren’t interested.).

Every time I wrote I would ask the Board to explain why we would be treated differently from coffee roasters.  This is the Pacific Northwest; we have at least two coffee roasters at the market.

The question was never answered.

My reasoning is that both us and the coffee roasters:

1) Take a product that most consumers do not want. 

Us: 650 lbs of crystallized honey in a barrel

Coffee: 50 – 100 lb bags of green coffee beans

2) By using equipment with precise temperature controls we transform that product into something consumers want:

Us: Power Blankets, Water Baths, Warm Rooms (I love the warm room – I like sitting in 92F heat)

Coffee: Coffee Roasters

3) Package the Product:

Us: from 2oz jars to 1-gallon glass jars.

Coffee : nice portable 1 pound bags.

The question was always ignored by the President and the rest of the Market Board.  Perhaps because there is no answer other than: they are similar processes.  Which would mean our products could remain or the coffee roasters would have to leave (which I wouldn’t want – who can have a market, or a street, in the Pacific Northwest without coffee roasters).

Feelings Triumph Over Rules, for the Bellingham Farmers Market Board:

There never was any rule sited to back the demand of the removal of our honeys.

We were left with the “feelings” of the Board.

We cannot respond to the “feelings” of the Board, because feelings cannot be documented.

A Chance to Express your Feelings

You can express your feelings on the issue.  I have created an on-line petition (it’s amazing what you can do on the internet these days).  Or if you want to tell the market what you think, you can contact our Market Board President and Vice-President:

President : Margot Myers margotbmyers@gmail.com

Vice-President: Alex Winstead, cascadiamushrooms@gmail.com

You can still get all our raw honeys from naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives.

We will continue to sell at the Market until June 30 (the “get the honey out of here” date demanded by the Board).

We also do Free Delivery to the cities of Bellingham, Everson, and Nooksack, plus all along the Mt. Baker Highway from Bellingham to Glacier.  Just email us (or call, but I was told never put a phone number in a blog – so email us or pick up a flier at the Bellingham Farmers Market before June 30).

There, I’ve put it all down and inputted all the correspondence, so my next post can get back to the more important things: bees and beekeeping.  During all this I’ve done the spring hive assessment, have supered most of my hives, and am now about to split at least 15 hives and start to raise queens for my apiary.  Oh yes, I went to Kauai and got to visit some of the beekeepers there — coming up soon on a blog.  That was really interesting – a completely different world with some fewer concerns (no varroa), and some additional concerns (small hive beetle).  There was something really special, to me, about burning coconut fiber in a smoker – how romantic (well, not to them).

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey in Maple Falls, Washington.

About Bean

I am the beekeeper at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, near Maple Falls, Washington. My bees fly from naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives in the foothills of Mt. Baker (the second most glaciated volcano in Washington). I sell the raw honey my bees make, as well as honey produced by Washington beekeepers who are friends - the emphasis is on raw honey from naturally treated, antibiotic-free hives. I also make and sell Raw Honey Infusions (Ginger, Lavender, and Vanilla Bean; Raw Honey Infused Organic Vinegars; and Beeswas Salves. You can find me or my husband at Seattle's Fremont Market and at Bellingham's Farmers Market. When not with the bees, you'll most likely meet me up some mountain trail, pinhole camera and digital camera slung over my shoulders, and my pack goats trailing behind me.
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3 Responses to Why We Are Leaving the Bellingham Farmers Market on June 30

  1. Pingback: Preparing Boxes & Frames for Splits and Supers | Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey

  2. Judith Taber says:

    I have not been to that market nor ever (as far as I know) had your honey. However, knowing that honey is one of the most counterfeited products in the market place, I salute you and hope to find your honey for myself soon. Keep up the good work.

    • Bean says:

      Thank you – kind words are welcome – the whole Bellingham Market thing makes me quite sad — but we’re there until June 30 – so, if you’re in the area, do stop round.

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