A walk around your own neighborhood can tell you a lot more about where you live than you might think. Its architecture, of course, defines its look. Its residents define its feel (and, depending on their median age, its sound), while its bakeries, breweries and food carts (or the absence there of) define its predominant smell. In sum, they all capture not just what space you occupy, but how you occupy it.

But what does your neighborhood taste like? Unless you grow your own fruits and vegetables or subscribe to your local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), you might not really know.

Damian Magista is trying to change all of that. But he might need your back yard, and maybe a small donation.


A Sweet Idea in South Tabor

Earlier this year, with the design, packaging and promotional help of Ideaville’s Jeremy Ehn and Lifted Visuals’ Brenden Schild, the South Tabor resident launched Bee Local, a hyperlocal honey enterprise that harvests and jars distinctly flavored honeys produced from various hives in the Mt. Tabor, Laurelhurst, Powellhurst and Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Just a couple of months after taking that honey to the market, Magista has now kicked off a Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000 by March 9 so he can invest in the infrastructure necessary to establish hives in other Portland neighborhoods, and in other cities too. (He says residents of Olympia, Seattle and San Francisco have all expressed interest in hosting hives.)


Building the Buzz

Damian Magista holdling a rack with honeycomb ready to harvest.
Damian Magista holdling a rack with honeycomb ready to harvest.

According to Magista, it all began in early 2009 when his neighbor, Seth Lee, was expecting a visit from his uncle, who was bringing Lee a hive. The two neighbors got to talking and Lee, noting Magista's curiosity, arranged to score his neighbor a hive too. Later that year, they harvested their first batches.

Magista says he's always enjoyed honey, but he didn't know much about it and didn't really go out of his way to buy it. But, that first harvest stirred something in him. Its taste may not have surprised him, but it gave him an idea.

He wouldn't just harvest a batch of honey and try to sell it. He would develop batches of neighborhood varieties and try to sell those.

 

Hyperlocal Honey 

Bees forage in small areas, and the plants that thrive in an area determine a specific honey's flavor profile.
Bees forage in small areas, and the plants that thrive in an area determine a specific honey's flavor profile.

Over the next couple of years, he found a few hosts living in four nearby Portland neighborhoods and placed hives in their yards. When the hives produced batches, Magista harvested them, and he and his friend, a wine consultant named Aaron Kirschnick, began sampling and comparing each harvest. They found that the honey was a lot like wine. Where wine is flavored by the soils in which its regional grapes grow, honey is flavored by the pollen a hive's bees collect. But, a bee, Magista says, only forages in a small area. The plants that thrive in an area determine a specific honey's flavor profile.

"Each [Bee Local] honey definitely has it's own flavor," Magista explains. "You can taste and see the difference."

The pollen collected from the flora of Mt. Tabor, home to "home gardens, maple trees and a nursery," results in a honey Magista describes as "exotic, bright and floral," with "a lovely, light golden hue. Laurelhurst [honey] is completely different. It's nutty, spicy and nuanced."

And the Brooklyn neighborhood, with its chestnut and maple trees, results in a crisply flavored, lightly "copper-colored honey with hints of nuts and dried fruit."

"It's epic," Magista says of his Brooklyn batch. "I love it." 

And so do his hosts.


Hosting a Hive in Your Neighborhood

 

"They start to see that their garden directly contributes to the flavor profile of the honey," Magista says. "It also begins an important conversation about our immediate environment. The bees and honey provide a platform to explore how we impact our urban landscape and food supply."

But, to keep harvesting honey that tastes exactly like where you live, Magista needs more hives and more hosts.

There are perks to hosting hives, too (all hosts get some honey), although he admits that most interested hosts "usually just want to do what they can to help the honeybee."

Say you're interested in beekeeping but you aren't certain that you're ready to commit. Hosting, Magista says, gives you a trial run, after which you can decide if beekeeping is truly for you.

Or, maybe you want to host so you can learn how to harvest honey. Magista has hives for you, plus you'll free up a lot of his time. Bee Local is not his only baby—by day, he directs operations for Happy Cup, the recently launched coffee roaster that creates and provides jobs for adults with disabilities.

"For those folks [his industrious hosts], I've worked out a deal so they are fairly compensated,” he says.

If you're interested hosting a hive or finding out what such compensation entails, contact Bee Local.

And if you'd rather sample the goods before Kickstarting a donation, you can buy a jar at Woodsman Market, Mr. Green Beans or the Matchbox Lounge, which has teamed with Magista to host its own hive.