What I love about permaculture is the idea that humans can be a beautiful asset to the regeneration of nature, rather than depleting it. And examples of this exist everywhere around us.
This weekend, I had the excitement of reconnecting with a friend whose work I admire. Oron Benary (and his wife, Sarah Jones) are two of the faces behind “Brothers Drake Meadery” based out of Columbus Ohio.
I met Oron last May at the BALLE conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and when I told him that I facilitated mead-making classes in Sonoma County, we immediately fell into conversation. As I listened to him gush about all the nuances and complexities of his business vision for the meadery, I could almost feel how every day at the meadery is a new adventure.
Oron described how each day is an exploration––of bees, subtleties and nuances of taste, experiments in fermented processes, the exciting challenge of marketing a somewhat esoteric product. As he spoke, I realized that this business is so much about permaculture. In fact, humans’ discovery of mead is rooted in the age-old practice of humans observing and interacting with nature:
A mead-making mentor of mine once shared the story that humans first discovered mead by mimicking bears, climbing high into trees to access the contents of deserted hives whose honey had gotten mixed with local fruits and was fermenting.....humans took note of the bears drunken behavior after tasting the elixir, and man (and woman)’s ventures into mead-making had begun......
Mead is an age-old honey-wine. Its base ingredient is honey, and can be done with synthetic yeasts or simply from the yeast carried on the skins of the fruit that flavor the wine. So what else might be tagged as “permaculture” about this business? Well for one, Oron would be the first to tell you that he uses only “spring” honey––it would be too dangerous for humans to steal the “fall” stores of honey, which are essentially the bees’ only supply of food for overwintering. This strikes me as very permaculture in terms of creating a product that not only nourishes a thirst in humans, but also allows the bees, whom we depend on, to have their fair share too.
Selling mead is as much about selling the “experience of drinking it”, rather than just the product. Oron sells a vast majority of his product from the Taproom in Columbus, minimizing the amount of waste in the packaging of his product, because 45-55% of his product is sold straight from the tap. Oron says simply, “glass is bad,” and tries to use the smallest amount possible in getting his product to the consumer.
The experience kicked off for San Francisco consumers this past Friday when Brothers Drake––the SF branch––had its’ kick-off celebration at Sutton Cellars in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco.....and certainly attendees were mainly in it for the experience. Surrounded by wine-barrels full of ciders & fermentation vessels full of unknown substances, tasters enjoyed meads of all shapes and sizes––Chamomile lavendar was my favorite––as we sipped the night away to honeyed goodness.
So the sweet secret is out :) ––I can’t wait for local entrepreneurs to start catching on to this innovative business model that has the potential to both support local beekeepers in their efforts to keep our local bee populations thriving, while keeping San Francisco partiers well-lubricated. An eco-efficacious twist to an age-old fermentation frenzy.