“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.
"I think, all in all, the festival was a success despite the weather which is out of our control, especially when the forecasts were off by so much," said vendor coordinator/events specialist Jordan Waldron. "I heard no complaints from attendees; I even saw some just enjoying the rain."
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and a co-founder of the festival agreed with the crowd estimate. "They braved the rain, thunder, lightning and hail!"
The California Honey Festival, launched in 2017 to celebrate the importance of bees and to promote honey and honey bees and their products, last year drew a crowd of 40,000.
"Overall, great job by all this year," Waldron reiterated, in thanking Harris and GATEways Horticulturist Rachel Davis of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden in coordinating the UC Davis Speakers' Stage. Harris also staffed a educational booth offering honey tasting. The Arboretum also provided one of the scores of booths that lined the streets.
The UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), founded in 2016 by Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, participated en force, staffing an information booth and an arts and crafts table. CAMPB, focused on learning, teaching, research, and public service, offers comprehensive, science-based information about honey bees and honey bee health.
A special guest was National Honey Bee Queen Selena Rampolla of Tampa, Fla., who is also a beekeeper. Crowned the honey bee queen at the American Beekeeping Federation Conference and Tradeshow earlier this year, she received a bachelor's degree in psychology, summa cum laude, from the University of South Florida in 2022. Rampolla, who developed her interest in honey bees in high school--and a subsequent beekeeping course convinced her to pursue the hobby--marvels at the "amazing symbiotic relationship between the honeybee, a flower, and society."
Another highlight of the festival: The UC Davis Speakers' Stage. Speakers addressed the crowds from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.:
- Pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, discussing "Pollination, the Importance of Native Bees and How to Promote Them"
Kitty Bolte, GATEways horticulturist, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, "Planting Your Garden to be a Welcoming Space for Pollinators"
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, and co-owner of Z Food Specialty and The HIVE, Woodland, "Let's Learn to Taste Honey."
Wendy Mather, co-program manager of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), "So, You Want to Be a Beekeeper?"
Jean-Philippe Marelli, senior director of Integrated Pest Management for Mars Wrigley Confectionery (also a journey level master beekeeper and Melipona beekeeper in Brazil), "Stingless Bees: The Amazing World of Melipona Bees"
Cooperative Extension apiculturist/associate professor Elina Lastro Niño of Entomology and Nematology, and director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), "What Our Bee Research Is Teaching Us."
Sanmu "Samtso" Caoji, a 2022-23 Hubert Humphrey fellow, and founder of the Shangri-la Gyalthang Academy, and CEO of the Cultural Information Consulting Company, "Empowering Women to Become Beekeepers and Bread Winners for Their Families While Keeping Bees in the Wild"
Rachel Davis, coordinator of Bee City USA Woodland and chair of Bee Campus USA UC Davis (GATEways Horticulturist for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden), "Woodland Is a Bee City; UC Davis Is a Bee City--What This Means to Our Communities"
The 2024 California Honey Festival is set for May 4.
The event, launched in 2017 to celebrate the importance of bees and to promote honey and honey bees and their products, last year drew a crowd of 40,000. It's free and family friendly.
Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute, and a co-founder of the festival, announced the list of speakers who will deliver 20-minute talks on the Speakers' Stage, located just west of First Street.
10:30 a.m.: Pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who will discuss "Pollination, the Importance of Native Bees and How to Promote Them"
11 a.m.: Kitty Bolte, GATEways horticulturist, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, "Planting Your Garden to be a Welcoming Space for Pollinators"
12 noon: Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, and co-owner of Z Food Specialty and The HIVE, Woodland, "Let's Learn to Taste Honey."
1 p.m.: Wendy Mather, co-program manager of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), "So, You Want to Be a Beekeeper?"
1:30 p.m.: Jean-Philippe Marelli, senior director of Integrated Pest Management for Mars Wrigley Confectionery (also a journey level master beekeeper and Melipona beekeeper in Brazil), "Stingless Bees: The Amazing World of Melipona Bees"
2 p.m.: Cooperative Extension apiculturist/associate professor Elina Lastro Niño of Entomology and Nematology, and director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMPB), "What Our Bee Research Is Teaching Us."
2:30 p.m.: Sanmu "Samtso" Caoji, a 2022-23 Hubert Humphrey fellow, and founder of the Shangri-la Gyalthang Academy, and CEO of the Cultural Information Consulting Company, "Empowering Women to Become Beekeepers and Bread Winners for Their Families While Keeping Bees in the Wild"
3 p.m.: Rachel Davis, coordinator of Bee City USA Woodland and chair of Bee Campus USA UC Davis (GATEways Horticulturist for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden), "Woodland Is a Bee City; UC Davis Is a Bee City--What This Means to Our Communities"
UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology communications specialist Kathy Keatley Garvey will provide a background slide show of honey bees and native bees.
The event is both educational and entertaining. Attendees can taste honey, check out the bee observation hives, watch cooking demonstrations and kids' shows, taste mead and other alcoholic drinks (if of age) and learn about bees from beekeepers and bee scientists. Vendors, offering various products and food, will line the streets.
The UC Davis-based California Master Beekeeper Program, founded in 2016 by Niño, provides a program of learning, teaching, research, and public service. They offer comprehensive, science-based information about honey bees and honey bee health. Since 2016, the organization has donated 32,000 hours of volunteer time and served 186,630 individuals in education, outreach and beekeeping mentorship. Read more about their classes and their work on their website.
An after-party will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. at The HIVE Tasting Room and Kitchen, 1221 Harter Ave., Woodland. It will feature pollinator-inspired food, drinks, and dancing to the music of Joy and Madness, an 8-piece soul and funk group. Tickets are $20 and will benefit the California Master Beekeeper Program. "Each ticket includes entry to win a bountiful Yolo County food and drink basket (value $500)," Harris said. More information is on this website.
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.
Amina Harris, executive director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, is the self-described "queen bee" of the family-owned business. Her son, Josh Zeldner, is the nectar director, and Liz Luu, formerly of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, is the marketing manager and tasting room manager.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology will display bee specimens, and Kathy Keatley Garvey of the Department of Entomology and Nematology will showcase 24 images of honey bees--most taken in her family's pollinator garden.
Nature Day is a family event. It will include games, an observation hive, a scavenger hunt and more.
Here's what's planned:
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.
Miridae Mobile Nursery
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
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. She writes a daily (Monday-Friday) Bug Squad blog on the UC ANR website.
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," Harris remembers. His business grew to become Z Specialty Food.
It was his lifelong dream to open "The Hive."
The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute is gearing up for two virtual events, one in September and the other in October:
- "Sips and Bites: The Hidden World of Honey" from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 9 on Zoom.
- Honey Sensory Workshop from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.on Thursday, Oct. 22.
Honey Sensory Workshop
Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollination Center, said the Honey Sensory Workshop is a "one-day immersion into the complex world of honey. Each student will be guided through tastings and discussions laying the groundwork to understand the variety and nuance of honey." Master presenters are master taster and Italian Certified Expert Honey Taster, Orietta Gianjorio and Amina Harris, educator and founding director and the co-owner of Z Specialty Food, LLC, Woodland.
The course will cover all the basics through lectures and tastings including:
- Sensory evaluation and descriptive analysis
- Mono-varietal honeys
Registration closes Oct. 1. The cost is $160. More information is here.
Sips and Bites: The Hidden World of Honey
This event is part of the Sips and Bites series, "which explores the stories behind foods and drinks with winemakers, brewers, and culinary innovators with tastings and conversations about what inspires them to make their wines, beers, and foods," said Harris, who will serve as moderator. Registration is underway.
Trevor and Claire Tauzer, founders of Sola Bee Farms, Woodland, will discuss how sustainable beekeeping is key to the future of agriculture. They will elaborate on what goes into making honey from a single floral source and yield information about the taste.
Trevor Tauzer, beekeeper and general manager of Tauzer Apiaries/Sola Bee Farms, created Sola Bee Farms in 2011 to sell the family's varietal honey directly to customers. He grew up beekeeping with his father, and following his graduation from UC Santa Cruz, returned to beekeeping in 2008. Trevor says he enjoys running his second-generation family business with his wife Claire, and teaching their 3.5 year old and 1-year-old about honey bees.
Claire Tauzer is the community outreach and brand manager of Tauzer Apiaries/Sola Bee Farms. A former high school teacher, she applies her educational background to help communicate and promote the importance of professional pollination and the benefits of local varietal honey. Sola Bee Farm's Wild Blackberry honey won a Good Food Award in 2019.
Registrants are asked to order a special three-pack of Sola Bee Farms honey (cost is $30) by Wednesday, Sept. 2 to ensure arrival by Wednesday, Sept. 9. (See more information)
The Honey and Pollination Center's recently scheduled Mead Making 301 course, initially set Sept. 14-17, has been canceled.