Francesco Colafemmina is not “only” a beekeeper but also a classic essayist and philologist. From Puglia Region (Apulia, Southern Italy), born in 1980, Francesco’s cultural background is, of course, the key that allowed him to leave a promising career in the field of business consultancy to devote himself to beekeeping.
Thus, “La Pecheronza” was born, an organic beekeeping company, with an entirely sustainable approach. A beekeeping that, in harmony with nature, sees the action of man reduced to give room to the precious work of bees, safeguarding the environment.
The result is an excellent production which, in 2018, earned “La Pecheronza”, the important recognition of the “Tre Gocce d’oro”, in the prestigious and rigorous National Competition “Great Honeys of Italy”, organized by the National Honey Observatory.
Francesco Colafemmina has revolutionized the way of doing beekeeping, placing classical culture, understood as a love of values, order and beauty, at the center of a working path which is also a journey of life.
The philosophy of his company is that of the “Straw thread revolution” of the Japanese botanist and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka. A philosophy that favors the “culture of not doing” or “doing as little as possible”. In today’s world, this philosophy, in the agricultural field, above all, for many, could be considered courageous. Can you explain, by virtue of your experience, why, on the contrary, this method would be desirable if it were adopted in beekeeping and beyond?
Let’s say immediately that agriculture, in general, needs a real revolution, because as it is, it is unsustainable. It is in many ways, and we have had proof of this, in beekeeping, in these months of lockdown. The low anthropic activity, the reduction of pollution and, perhaps, a reduction in the use of pesticides and herbicides, has favored an extraordinary recovery of bees and abundant productions in April. Yet, when in May circulation and industrial production resumed at the previous rates, there was a sharp drop in production and the first effects on the development of the hives. These are empirical findings which, however, find scientific support on the effects that pesticide cocktails and pollution have on bees. Not to mention the dramatic reduction in biodiversity caused by monocultures and, more generally, by the erroneous contemporary agricultural policies. For this reason, beyond labels, certifications, it is necessary to feel the need for a change, for an “agricultural revolution” which is also food. Doing as little as possible with bees does not mean abandoning them to themselves in the name of a certain naturalist freak, however, but rather learning about them and taking care of them following their trends, their instincts, combining productive interest with well-being and colonial health.
On his company website, we read that: “Making organic beekeeping means, first of all, protecting bees and the consumer from chemical contamination: those of pesticides and those of the drugs used in the hive by beekeepers to combat the main parasite of bees, the so-called Varroa “. Can you briefly explain how your honey is born (as well as varieties, characteristics), in full respect of bees and the consumer?
The beekeeper is a “bee herder” and, just like the shepherd or herdsman, leads his flying flocks on pastures that will guarantee the quality, uniqueness or otherwise of the product. Our goal is to look for uncontaminated places, far from pollution and cities, not surrounded by fields where intensive agriculture is practiced, or happy islands where organic food is not just a fade. On the other hand, we carry out multiresidual analyzes on some of our honeys to ascertain that there are no sources of pollution. And the results of the international awards, from the “Three Golden Drops” (“Tre gocce d’oro”) to the Great Taste, to the Black JarHoney Contest, passing through the “Biolmiel”, attest to the quality of the product. Obviously, great care is taken in the use of residue-free and certified organic wax, in the use of honey for bee nutrition, in the guarantee of healthy pollen-rich pastures, in the exclusive use of treatments against varroa approved in the method of biological conduction. We produce honeys that have the task of telling the terroir, therefore not standard varieties (for example, I have never produced Acacia honey which is not a honey of our territory). We therefore have cherry and orange which are typical Apulian productions (together with the yellow cornflower that is not always possible to produce in summer), and then move on to coriander, clover and chestnut, collected in the wonderful landscapes of Basilicata. Obviously, we decide, from time to time, which honeys to do and which to exclude, perhaps due to the development conditions of the pastures (this year, for example, the cherry blossom has been compromised by the climate, and the drought has prevented the development of the Sulla).
You are proud to emphasize that yours is not simply beekeeping, but bees-culture, or rather a synthesis of tradition and vitality. How do you balance such ambitious cultural values with the needs of a competitive market?
By developing consumer awareness. It is a cultural challenge. If we are so attentive to our health to stay home two months because of an unknown virus, perhaps we should pay as much attention to what we eat and how our food is produced. So, it is necessary to fight with all your energy the huge imports of low quality and low price foreign honey (for example the Chinese one) because, on the one hand it brings down the price of Italian honey too, reducing the sustainability of our businesses, on the other hand, it does not encourage the development of adequate awareness in the consumer who often stops at the price without knowing the effort and commitment of the beekeeper in creating a unique and healthy product.
In an era in which social networks, useful tools if used with awareness, have the power to convey misleading messages, it can clarify to the vegan people why consuming honey is also an act of love towards the ecosystem and not a cruelty towards bees, as claimed by some?
Bees for a variety of reasons, not only anthropic, but also linked to phenomena which, now also frighten humans like “viral swarms”, are threatened in their existence. Man has favored contacts with new parasites and predators previously unknown to the honey bee, has weakened its existence through the use of pesticides and herbicides, but the bees themselves have been traversed for years by viral storms that constantly decimate their populations even in the wild. Thus, without the vital role of the beekeeper, bees would disappear. Distorted reports appears on the web about the cynicism of beekeepers or about the honey deprivation that we would impose on bees, when, in reality, we love our bees so much that we have transformed this love into a job that, certainly, it does not make us rich, it exposes us to great efforts, to great privations, but it makes us happy. Often, it would be enough to know a beekeeper to learn to love bees and deny the many sofa talk we read on social networks and on the web.
In his instructive and highly enjoyable Italian book “The Bees and us” (Apinsieme editions), among the many useful lessons to get to know such a fascinating world, he focuses on the so-called “false myths” that, for decades, have limited a product that, lovers of matter, like her, return to their ancient, precious value. Can you summarize some of these false beliefs?
There are many, however I will limit myself to two of these, the most common. The first is the one on the healing properties of individual monoflora honeys: the calming lime, the draining cherry, the ideal eucalyptus for the throat and so on. It’s all nonsense! Honey is a food, first of all. And its healthy properties are shared by all honeys (being composed of simple sugars, with the presence of vitamins and minerals, the moisturizing nature, the antiseptic and bacteriostatic action etc.). Thinking about selling or buying a monoflora honey, that is produced on a specific flowering, one of the pride of Italian productions, only because there would be strange alchemical properties is a way to debase the product and deprive it of its countless gastronomic potential. More generally, it is a deception. The other false myth is that of liquid honey. Honey as a supersaturated sugar solution tends to crystallize as soon as the glucose crystals precipitate. And this precipitation occurs when honey is composed of a percentage of glucose prevalent or equal to that of fructose, which occurs in the majority of honeys. Only acacia, chestnut and honeydew remain liquid for longer due to the prevalence of fructose. Nevertheless, honey is liquid when it is just produced and crystallizes over the months, as soon as temperatures drop (therefore typically between September and October, but some honeys such as cherry or citrus fruits tend to crystallize even earlier). Therefore crystallized honey is a guarantee of a product not subjected to heat treatments at high temperatures, it is therefore an intact product that preserves all its flavors and aromas.
What advice can you give to anyone wishing to approach the profession of organic beekeeper?
Don’t do it lightly. Today, it seems to be a widespread trend, also encouraged by the economic crisis and high honey prices. But beekeeping is, in some ways, a tiring luxury. Investments are needed for the laboratory and warehouse, it is necessary to consider that it is not the price of the jar that offers a dream of presumed future wealth, because our time and our physical health must still be included in the business plan. Then you must have adequate knowledge of bees, a complex world that you never stop knowing because, of course, a course or a manual is not enough. In short, in this search for bucolic happiness, that often hides behind the desire to do beekeeping, you have to keep your feet on the ground and understand that bees are not canaries to be kept in front of a window, nor even tender insects to be put in a beehive. waiting for them to make honey. It takes constancy, precision, and in some ways the same eye, the same instinct as bees. A process that slowly develops in the beekeeper making him increasingly capable of understanding his winged friends intimately.