Califonia Bountiful

From hive to table

July/Aug. 2010 California Country magazine

Unique farm tours provide tastes and truths about honey.

Beyond the vineyards of the Napa Valley, a unique tasting tour is all the buzz. Beekeeper Spencer Marshall and his wife, Helene, produce dozens of varieties of handcrafted, all-natural gourmet honey. From star thistle to wildflower, blackberry and eucalyptus, the honey varies not only in taste, but in color. Marshall’s Farm has some 600 hives in 100 locations throughout Northern and Central California. And that’s part of what makes their honey so unique.

“It’s very exciting, because every microclimate, every apiary location will produce a different tasting honey,” Helene explains. “Beekeepers are kind of like modern-day cowboys, only instead of taking the herd, they take the hives to the flowers. So if we want orange blossoms, we go south to Fresno and Bakersfield. If we want eucalyptus, we stay put in the Bay Area.”

The nectar and pollen collected by the bees determines the taste and color of the honey. And Helene offers guests a generous linear tasting, from light to dark.

“Most people think honey is honey,” she says. “They’re not aware it’s a lot like wine.”

But they’re learning. Marshall’s Farm—in American Canyon between Napa and Vallejo—is booking more tours and workshops this year than ever. Tour groups get a chance to meet the queen bee and taste honey straight from the beehive. Visitors also learn how honey is extracted and bottled, then get to experience a scrumptious food and honey pairing. And while the tours offer a chance to educate the public, it’s also a way to develop the honey farm business without spending a lot of money.

“It’s a piece of the pie,” says Spencer. “We’re operating on the edge like most farmers, and we need every little piece we can get.”

Marshall’s Farm isn’t alone. State reports show farm revenues from agritourism increased from over $6.5 million to nearly $40 million in five years.

Marshall’s Farm also offers free samples at Bay Area farmers markets. One popular variety—Honey So Fresh—is harvested and sold within the same week. Loyal customers maintain it gives them relief from pollen allergies.

“If you eat local honey from a 50-mile radius of where you live and work, and the honey is harvested seasonally, it will have pollens in it that are blowing around in the air,” says Helene, adding that by eating pollen in the honey, people may be able to boost their immunity. And if one teaspoon a day can help, nothing could be sweeter.

For more information on Marshall’s Farm Natural Honey products, tours and events, visit

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