“It was about how to cook with honey and how to keep good quality honey without destroying it,” she related. “Then I took my real retirement trip—an Alaskan cruise with my sister.”
Today Amina Harris is no longer the "queen bee” of the Honey and Pollination Center but she continues to be the “queen bee” of the family-owned, family-operated gourmet food business, Z Specialty Food LLC, Woodland, that her late husband, Ishai Zeldner founded in 1979.
Accolades about her work flow like the honey she loves. "Amina has been key to promoting and developing regional and national interest in honey and mead,“ said nematologist Steve Nadler, professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Her accomplishments include:
- Founded the Center in the fall of 2012 and served as the founding director until June 30, 2023
- Co-founder of the California Honey Festival with the City of Woodland and Z Specialty Food, 2016
- Developed the UC Davis Honey Aroma and Flavor Wheel, 2013-14
- Offered several UC Davis Bee Symposia in concert with the Department of Entomology and Nematology to help educate California beekeepers at all levels, starting in 2015
- Established “The Feast: A Celebration with Mead and Honey,” formerly known as “The Mid-Winter Beekeepers' Feast,” pairing food influenced by honey, starting in 2014
- Helped develop and fund the California Master Beekeeper Program (which replaced the Bee Symposia), 2016
- Developed, with the UC Davis Department of Viticulture, the first short course on mead, 2014. Subsequent short courses ranged from “Introduction to Making Mead” to “Advanced Mead Making.”
- Developed the Honey Exploration Series, which began in 2016 and included both a professional focus (“Honey Sensory”) and a public focus (“World of Honey”).
- Delivered presentations at various programs and events throughout the United States and Canada from 2012 to 2023.
“It has been a great pleasure to collaborate with Amina as she always brought a fresh perspective to pollinator education discussions," Niño added. "We will miss her in her capacity as the HPC director, but I am sure that we will continue to interact in the future and utilize her expansive knowledge of all things honey!"
Said Wendy Mather, co-program manager of CAMBP: “Whenever I've needed assistance with about anything honey-related, Amina has generously offered her time and wisdom. She has served on the CAMBP Advisory Board since the program's inception in 2016. Her experience and wisdom are valued as she continues to offer excellent programmatic design suggestions to help strengthen our staff-member communication. Amina was also instrumental in designing, hosting and facilitating an introduction and overview to honey, honey processing and honey tasting. And she connected us to Suzanne Teuber, a UC Davis physician and professor specializing in allergy and clinical immunologic disorders so we could learn more about the science behind anaphylactic responses to bee stings.”
Energy of a Worker Bee. “We also couldn't have asked for a better partner to set up beside at the California Honey Festival over the past few years!” Mather said. “The Honey Wheel tasting table draws crowds curious about exploring the sensory elements of honey and our adjacent CAMBP booth benefits from that sweet attraction. If you've even seen Amina in action, you'll know she has the purposeful energy of a worker bee.”
Amina, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y, received her undergraduate degrees--double major in English and the history of art--from the University of Michigan and her graduate degree in special education from Buffalo State College. She met beekeeper/entrepreneur Ishai Zeldner, also a native of Buffalo, in Yolo County. They married in 1982 and together they raised their two children, Shoshana “Shoshi” and Joshua.
Ishai and Amina created a line of internationally recognized award-winning specialty food products, including the Moon Shine Trading Company. They began providing more than 30 honey varietals, including star thistle honey, the first honey to capture Ishai's imagination and palate.
A Dream Fulfilled. Ishai, who died in 2018 at age 71, always dreamed of expanding the family business from a processing plant into what it is today, a 20,000-square-foot facility that includes The HIVE tasting room for honey and mead, a gift shop, a kitchen featuring sustainable pollinator-themed dishes, a conference room, an outdoor courtyard and a two-acre pollinator garden.
The facility, which opened in 2021, houses Moon Apiaries and the Moon Shine Trading Company, as well as The HIVE. Located at 1221 Harter Way, Woodland, it is described as a sustainable educational learning center; a landmark community gathering spot featuring honey, mead, and sustainable pollinator-themed dishes; and a place that offers the largest selection of honey and mead in California. Ishai's bee boxes grace a wall of the tasting room.
“We, our family, are all the co-owners of this venture,” Amina says. Josh describes himself as “the nectar director”; Amina, “the queen bee”; and Shoshi, the marketing director.
How It Began. What sparked Amina's interest in honey? Creating honey-influenced recipes. “Back in 1970s when everyone was getting into whole foods, I wanted to create more holistic recipes, so I started making jams and jellies and pies, adding honey for the sweetener instead of sugar. I was making pies for families when I was in the seventh grade! Honey selection was not good in New York State, and I didn't know the science then.”
Bees continue to fascinate her. “People have no idea how emotionally attached we are to bees. There's this huge, wonderful group of people who just love bees because they're so cute and endearing. But we need to be more curious and inquisitive as to how wonderful bees are, and how they benefit us as pollinators. And the honey. We should appreciate bees more than we do.”
Meanwhile, Amina's family, friends and colleagues are gearing up for an August retirement party, to be held at The HIVE.
Zeldner, who died in 2018 at age 71, would have been proud to see the family business he founded, Z Specialty Food, develop into a 20,000 square-foot facility at 1221 Harter Way, Woodland.
It was his dream.
It includes a processing plant, The Hive (tasting room for honey and mead, a gift shop and a conference room), an outdoor courtyard and a two-acre pollinator garden.
He particularly would have been proud to see the floor-to-ceiling hive decor in The Hive: the very bee boxes he tended to when he visited his apiary. As many beekeepers do, he wrote his observations on the boxes. You can still see his notations.
Zeldner worked as a commercial beekeeper and studied beekeeping at UC Davis before founding the Moon Shine Trading Company in 1979. That was the beginning of Z Specialty Food.
But it all began with yellow starthistle. "He loved it so much that he began giving it away to his friends, and quickly realized he was going broke doing so," remembers his widow, Amina Harris, the director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
His son, Joshua "Josh" Zeldner, who now runs the company--he calls himself "the nectar director"--wrote in an eulogy: "He helped introduce consumers to the wide range of honeys not found in the bear-shaped squeeze bottles at the supermarket."
"Born in Buffalo, New York, Ishai was a fourth-generation food merchant, and grew up in the specialty food business," Josh wrote. "His family owned Zeldner's Market, which specialized in exotic game. Ishai spent his Saturdays and summers as a kid working in the store, learning how to butcher an array of animals, and, most importantly, how to successfully run a business."
"After college, Ishai spent several transformational years living on Kibbutz Beit Hashita in Israel. The kibbutz beekeeper chose Ishai to assist him based on his size and strength; neither man had any idea how much it would influence the rest of his life. It was there that he not only learned how to keep bees, but fell in love with beekeeping and honey. He also took the name Ishai. He returned to Buffalo to assist with the management and sale of his family's business at the sudden death of his father. This significant gesture ensured that his mother could afford to comfortably retire."
Ishai's vision was to "bring top quality varietal honey to the table," Josh wrote. And of course, yellow starthistle was "the first one to capture his imagination and his palate."
"Soon after, he married Amina Harris who ran the business by his side in Winters and then Davis. Together they raised two children – Shoshana and Joshua. Ishai taught them both how to appreciate honey straight from the hive and keep bees of their own. Together, Ishai and Amina created a line of nationally-recognized award-winning specialty food products. Today, Moon Shine Trading Company is part of the family of Z Specialty Food, LLC, based in Woodland, California. Z Specialty is known throughout the country for offering over 30 varietal honeys selected from across North America." (See eulogy.)
Fast forward to today. Plans are underway--buzzing, really--for a gala family event. The Hive will host a Nature Day celebration, free and open to the public, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, April 2. It's a day to emphasize the importance of bees, honey, pollination and conservation. The public can tour the processing plant, taste honey and mead, explore the gift shop, sit in the outdoor courtyard and visit the pollinator garden. Workshops, games, a display of bee specimens by the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and a photo display of honey bees are planned. Dogs are welcome, too! (See schedule)
Now another "pride" awaits.
Z Specialty Food will host a Nature Day celebration, a free public event from 11 a.m., to 5 p.m., Saturday, April 2.
The 20,000-square-foot facility, which houses the Moon Shine Trading Company, Island of the Moon Apiaries, and The Hive, includes a processing plant, a tasting room (honey and mead), a gift shop, an outdoor courtyard and a pollinator garden. As the largest honey varietal business in California, it is the pride of all folks eager to say: "Show me the honey!"
And now on Saturday, April 2, during the Nature Day celebration, you'll see the pride of The Hive.
What's on tap for Nature Day?
Don't Toss Those Scraps! – Natural Dye Workshop
Time: All day
Learn how to utilize food scraps and create one-of-a-kind dyes for clothing, fabric and yarn. You'll be provided white cloth, avocado pits and black beans. What's with food waste? Each year Americans waste 108 billion pounds of food, contributing to extensive environmental, economic, and societal impacts.
Miridae Living Labs
Time: All day
You'll get to play with seed bombs, bugs, and plants with Miridae Living Labs! This is a non-profit, Sacramento-area organization dedicated to using native insects and plants as tools for education, research, and community engagement. The business "strives to generate positive ecological changes in our communities under the guidance and leadership of community members," a spokesperson said.
Noon: Container Gardening with California Native Plants (first-come, first-serve basis with purchase of plant)
Miridae Mobile Nursery is a customized box truck that transforms into a curbside native plant shop. Its goal is "to bring people together through plants and gardening." All profits from its sales of native plants support its science education, non-profit Miridae Living Labs.
The Hive Nature Loop Scavenger Hunt
Time: All Day
You can grab a pamphlet and go on a scavenger hunt for plants in The Hive Nature Loop. Find all the plants and show to a team member to win a prize!
Pollinator Garden Tour
Time: 1 p.m.
Join plant curator Rowan Boswell for a tour of the two-acre pollinator gardens at The Hive. It's billed as: "Get inspired by our oasis and outdoor courtyard, designed to meet the needs of our community and native species. Discover pollinator favorites, California natives, and drought-tolerant plants."
Bohart Museum of Entomology
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis will display specimens of bees. The insect museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, is the home of a global collection of eight million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas); and a gift shop.
Some 24 images of honey bees by award-winning photographer Kathy Keatley Garvey of UC Davis will be showcased. A communication specialist for the Department of Entomology and Nematology who takes images of honey bees and other pollinators in her leisure time, she comes from a long line of beekeepers. She writes a daily (Monday-Friday) Bug Squad blog.
The Hive Facility Tour
Times: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Visitors are invited to tour the four-year development, created to educate the public on honey, bees, and pollination. Nectar director Josh Zeldner will guide the tours of 20,000-square-foot, Zero Net Energy facility.
Z Specialty Food began as the Moon Shine Trading Company, founded in 1979 by Ishai Zeldner (1947-2018), who died at age 71. He worked as a commercial beekeeper and studied beekeeping at UC Davis. He became fond of yellow starthistle honey. "He loved it so much that he began giving it away to his friends, and quickly realized he was going broke doing so," remembers his widow, Amina Harris, the director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. Her title at the family business? "Queen Bee." Son Josh Zeldner is the "nectar director." Liz Luu is the marketing manager and tasting room manager, or a "worker bee."
Honey enthusiasts all, they and their crew will greet the public on Nature Day, April 2. The bees will be there, too, foraging on the Pride of Madeira.
That's Z Specialty Food's newly constructed The HIVE, located at 1221 Harter Ave. Woodland. It's 42 years in the making, including four years of design and construction, said self-described "Queen Bee" Amina Harris of the family-owned business.
A grand opening public celebration, featuring live bands, plant tours, family activities, and honey and mead sales, as well as food available from the HIVE and local food trucks, will take place Saturday, Nov. 13 from 1 to 7 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 14 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Z Specialty Food, home of the Island of the Moon Apiaries, the Moon Shine Trading Company, and The HIVE, specializes in 30-plus honey varietals, including Mexican coffee golden reserve varietal honey, Northwestern blackberry gourmet varietal honey, Florida white tupelo honey, and California spring wildflower honey. Another favorite: starthistle honey, favored by many beekeepers.
“I am passionate about introducing people to taking the time to taste honey properly, noticing every unique color, flavor, aroma and texture that comes through,” Harris said.
Inside the 20,000-square-foot, Zero Net Energy facility is an "upscale wine tasting room, with a rustic wood rustic-clad bar where visitors stand while an employee behind the bar offers honey samples on tiny plastic spoons," according to an article in Sacramento Magazine. "Each honey is surprisingly unique, with its own distinct color, aroma and flavor profile."
Harris, who serves as the director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute, said her husband, the late Ishai "Charles" Zeldner, founded Z Specialty Food in 1979. A fourth-generation food merchant who worked with a beekeeping operation in Israel while living in the kibbutz, Beit HaShita, he later studied apiculture at UC Davis. He died June 17, 2018 at his home in Davis at age 71.
"Our late founder, Ishai Zeldner, always wanted a place to host people from all over the world, and blow their minds around the vast array of flavors, colors and textures of varietal honey," the website relates. "Now you can experience the fruits of our labor, from a family business that has been through it all over the last 42 years, and counting."
Son Joshua Zeldner, nectar director of Z Specialty Food, commented about the grand opening celebration: "It's hard to believe we are finally here, a true dream come true..." His dad, he said, "always wanted to have a ‘honey museum' on I-5, and now we do. I am so excited to invite people to experience what we have created, the full circle of plants, bees, honey and mead."
The site includes a courtyard and a pollinator garden.
Part of the proceeds will benefit the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center and co-owner of Z Specialty Food, will be leading a guided honey tasting at noon each day.
Harris, who co-owns the business with husband Ishai Zeldner and son Josh Zeldner, says the event will include “so many honeys—about 30. New varietals include Arizona Cactus Blossom, California Purple Vetch, Toyon, Hawaiian Wildflower, Raspberry, and Midwestern Basswood."
In addition, the event will showcase mead (honey wine), honey beer, honey fruit spreads, honey in the straw, chocolate nut spreads, olive oil and other foods. There also will be children's activities, tours, giveways, and live music by the Jonny Gold Trio of Davis.
Harris will be offering the Honey Aroma and Flavor Wheel for sale, with proceeds benefitting the Honey and Pollination Center and the Laidlaw facility.
Z Specialty Food is home to Moon Shine Trading Company, Island of the Moon Apiaries, and Cowboy Caviar. Moon Shine Trading packs more than 20 varietal honeys and other gourmet foods.
Some of the rare honeys that are quite popular are coriander and pomegranate, said Ishai Zeldner, the company's founder. This year Z Specialty Food partnered with Woodland's Blue Note Brewing Company to develop a pomegranate honey called "Local Buzz." It, too, will be available for tasting at the open house.
Z Specialty Food will be among the sponsors at the 40th annual Western Apicultural Society (WAS) conference, set Sept. 5-8, 2017 at Davis. Conference participants will tour the Woodland business. WAS was founded by UC Davis bee specialists headquartered at the Laidlaw facility.