America, Experiences

Honey Happiness

15 Comments 24 January 2012

honey tea

Happiness in a Jar

Can honey make the world a better place?

Prior to traveling on the Big Island my answer to that question was most definitely “Huh? ” most likely followed by “No.” However, after meeting Richard of the Volcano Island Honey Company, spending hours talking to him enthralled with every piece of information that came from his lips – my answer is now an enthusiastic “Yes!”

I am hopelessly lost trying to find the sign for Volcano Island Honey and as usual I am running late. The drive here is distracting me with it’s beauty and I think to myself that this isn’t a bad place to be lost on the winding tree lined roads of Old Mamalahoa Highway near Honokaa.

Finally I see the turn off and it takes me deeper into the maze of private farms; at the end of the road I see the sign leading me to honey. I’m here to meet Richard Spiegel, a beekeeper who is leading the way in organic honey production. I have a dream of dawning a bee suit and seeing the hives, but Richard has agreed to fit me into his busy schedule, so I am simply thankful that I’m able to meet him at all.

honey rainbow

A rainbow frames the bee hives at the Volcano Island Honey Farm

Richard wears a wide brimmed floppy hat, has a gray beard, and a welcoming smile. He leads me into a meeting room where I learn he holds presentations for various groups including students, tourist, media, and the neighborhood also uses it for a community meeting space. Richard gets me some tea and of course offers me honey. I accept and he brings out a jar of his honey, twists open the lid, and sets it next to my tea.

This is like no honey I’ve ever seen before. It’s cream colored and thick like frosting or a butter spread. I try a little directly from the spoon out of curiosity. It’s his rare organic white honey and even though it doesn’t look like honey to me, it tastes like honey; it has a delicious sweet flavor.


Creamy smooth organic honey

I’m eager to learn about his honey production.  However, when he starts telling me about his journey from attorney to beekeeper all of a sudden I realize that maybe my real interest is not honey, it’s his story from traditional career to finding and following his passion which interests me.   His views on business and life have captured me and I can’t agree with him more.

He describes himself as a retired hippie. He started as a lawyer participating in the civil rights movement, and ended up in a VW van traveling across the US to live an ‘alternative’ lifestyle. He wanted to show people that there’s another way to ‘do it’; ‘it’ meaning life in general.

I consider the fact that fate maybe brought us together. He was out preaching my way of life way before I was born. We begin to chat feverishly about our views of work, life, and of course career breaks and travel. I am delighted; yet we haven’t once discussed honey.

honey man

Richard talking about wax foundations

After a long, fun diversion, we get back on track and he begins to show me a slide show about his business and the business of bees. His hobby had been bee-keeping and when he moved to the Big Island he decided to use the bees as a way to change people. He wasn’t really interested in starting a business, but he wanted to see if it was possible to succeed in business based on values.

Richard next began to introduce me to the complexities of bees; the information he provides me is practically unbelievable.

• 1 colony contains over 50,000 worker bees – all female
• The queen bee can live for 3 or 4 years
• 1 colony can make 60 pounds of honey a week
• All bees in a colony have a specific role
• Bees fly 2 miles from the hive searching for nectar to make honey and when they find it they fly back and do a specific figure 8 dance to tell the other bees where the nectar is located.

The sheer thought of how a bee can communicate complex geographical coordinates of a 2 mile radius without speaking is about too much for me to comprehend. Richards describes the whole process of bee hives, pollination, and honey production as a four dimensional chess game.

honey bees

Honey bees

I examine the prize jar of honey further as Richard continues to tell me about organic honey production at the farm. What makes this smooth, silky, mixture which is in front of me so unique is the way the bees are handled, and the way which the honey is produced. The first key is the honey is produced from pollen which comes only from one plant; the exquisite nectar of the Kiawe flower in its most natural form. Instead of the bees finding the pollen around them, Richard takes the bees to the kiawe grove so that it’s the only pollen to choose from. You can learn more about the process and why kiawe trees are used here.

The rest of the process is complex but Richard and his team of bee lovers are coming up with ways to lead the production of truly organic honey. As I listen to him talk I realize honey is not at all what I thought it was. Instead honey production is a true science. To get the rare organic white honey it takes into account things like purity, timing, crystallization, heat, enzymes, and filters.

wax foundation

Organic wax foundation

In the same vein in which Richard struck out of the corporate world to show people there’s ‘another way to do it’, he revolutionized honey production too. Volcano Island Honey has gone as organic and environmentally sustainable as they possible can. From organic beeswax foundation, to the jars they use, to the paper they print on, to the fuel they use for their vehicles; Richard is making the world a better place and teaching people to accept and embrace different ways to produce honey. He calls it his Bee-green initiative.

I tour the farm and we talk for hours about bees, honey, the world, careers, passion, and life. My trip to Volcano Island Honey is more than I ever expected it to be. It is different, surprising, and educational; but the best part is that I met a kindrid spirit in Richard.

Richard is “interested in changing the world in a more positive way.” He’s doing it through bee keeping and in my opinion he’s been quite successful. His honey is on shelves all around the world. He uses his famous honey to get into the hearts and minds of people, planting seeds of change inside people.

He may actually be a retired hippie, but he’s succeeding at making the world a sweeter place.

More Information:
Purchase products
Ways to use Honey

You can (and should) visit Volcano Island Honey Farm on the Big Island and purchase products directly, or take a tour!
Tour Information
Bee Farm Tour (watch the bee hive through a glass window)
Bee Hive Tour (Dawn a bee suit and get up close and personal!)
Educational Tour for students or non-profits

honey Big Island

You can purchase products directly at the farm

Your Comments

15 Comments so far

  1. Nice post, Sherry! My husband always seeks out beekeepers on our travels and tries new honey. They’re all so different.

    You might like this Mexico honey story in the Jan/Feb issue of National Geographic Traveler:

  2. I love honey and buy it wherever I go.

  3. Scott says:

    It is always inspiring to read about ‘another way to do it’. Thanks for the post. Great work!

  4. Lane says:

    After a visit to Honeyville near Durango, Colorado, I became a whipped honey convert. We’ll definitely put this on our list for our next visit to Hawaii.

  5. Mark H says:

    My favourite honey fact is that natural honey NEVER goes off and contains no cholestrol or fat. They are meant to have found honey from ancient Egypt that is still edible today. But not the creamed version for me – keep it runny.

  6. As a “recovering attorney,” I love stories like this. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. JoAnna says:

    Love this! Honey is super underrated. I wish there was more honey tasting in travel, just like there is an emphasis on beer, coffee, chocolate, wine, etc.

  8. Lori says:

    I Love Honey…I usually go to farmer’s markets looking for different flavor’s of honey to buy. I will have to check out the farm next time I am on the big island.

  9. Doug Cole says:

    Good article. We are also implementing honey into our ag-tourism based business at We are producing lavender honey via our organic lavender fields. The honey, lavender, herb products make a nice addition to our gift shop offerings and nicely complement the prime product of an adventure holiday at a dude ranch. Thanks for the good lead, Doug

  10. That white honey looks incredible!

  11. So glad you discovered the world of bees. I’ve been studying their biology and beekeeping (will hopefully be done this year), they are so fascinating. Here is a post I wrote about them this summer.

  12. Ann says:

    I guess you were taken in by this excellent marketer from NYC. This honey is neither rare nor white (Kiawe is one of the most common trees in the world, not indigenous to Hawaii; the honey is white because it is “whipped”…any honey will become white with this treatment.)

    A better find would’ve been to visit Big Island Bees “bee museum” in Captain Cook. Owned by a 4th generation bee keeper, who’s family patriarch established Captain Cook Honey company in the early 1970’s. With over 3,000 hives located through out the Big Island, the current owner is also a world renowned environmental artist who integrates bees and their wax into his live sculpture. At the museum you can see a live bee hive behind a glass case, as well as learn the history of beekeeping. His wife recently started Big Island Bees honey company which produces jars of honey in three varietals; honey that is pure, rare and sold in it’s natural form.
    Even though Richard might think he’s changing the world, in these days of selling bees colonies to almond producers in California, Captain Cook Honey company is one of the largest producers of organic honey currently in the world…the bees are not fed or given antibiotics..they are meticulously nurtured by a staff of professional beekeepers and moved throughout the island–to where the nectar is most available–no small feat with 3,000 hives and millions of bees. In full capacity (before the bee mite)they produced nearly about 800,000 lbs per year. The honey is rare and indigenous, Lehua from the ohia blossum, which is thick and white because it crystallizes almost immediately after extraction and Waiklaiki (or Christmas Berry) from that rare white pepper flower. Their Macademia nut honey is not indigenous and not organic (most macadamia nut orchards use non-organic fertilizers) but plentiful and luscious.
    Richard has done a great job of promoting his honey but it’s more about marketing than actual fact. It’s a shame that he the one who always gets the glory for his small honey production which fetches nearly $20 per 8oz jar ..but it hasn’t really done much for anyone but Richard’s own pockets. It’s only rare because Richard says so.

    • Sherry says:

      Ann – I’m sorry you feel this way about Richard. But quite frankly I enjoyed my time with him immensely and marketing is a HUGE part of any business – so good for him that he’s done well with marketing. Next time I’m on the Big Island I’m happy to go see the Captain Cook facilities.

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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