“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.
The California Honey Festival, set Saturday, May 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Woodland, will focus on honey, bees, plants and pollination.
"UC Davis will have a slimmed down version this year," said Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute, and a co-founder of the event. Launched in 2017, the Honey Festival hasn't been held since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the events on tap Saturday:
- The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center will showcase its honey tasting wheel and offer free honey tasting.
- The California Master Beekeeper Program will staff two educational booths. Visitors can examine a bee observation hive, check out the beekeeping equipment and peer through microscopes. Kids' activities are also planned.
- The Bohart Museum of Entomology of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematolgoy will showcase bee diversity in its specimen drawers. Its live "petting zoo" will include Madagascar hissing cockroaches and stick insects (walking sticks) that folks can hold, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
- The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden will address pollinator needs and gardening.
- The Woodland Public Library will offer a children's reading hour.
- Uncle Jer's Traveling Bee Show will provide educational performances.
- The UC Davis Bookstores booth will contain honey, books, and other gifts for sale.
- Visitors can don a bee costume and get their picture taken in the UC Davis Pollination Park, a collaboration with the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
Harris said the festival will include live music, a beer and mead garden, and about 100 vendors selling everything from food to plants to arts and crafts. Admission to the festival is free. The first festival drew some 30,000 visitors.
An after-party is planned at The Hive, owned by Z Specialty Food, Woodland. Advance registration is required. Access https://zspecialtyfood.com/event/california-honey-festival-after-party/
(Note: This year the UC Davis Bee Haven, operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won't be able to participate due to scheduling conflicts, said academic program management manager Christine Casey.)
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.
The conference, “Multidimensional Solutions to Current and Future Threats to Pollinator Health,” took place in the ARC Ballroom and covered a wide range of topics in pollinator research: from genomics to ecology and their application to land use and management; to breeding of managed bees; and to monitoring of global pollinator populations, according to the co-chairs, pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams and Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, directed by Amina Harris, coordinated the conference, with events manager Elizabeth Luu praised as "the heavy hitter." (See agenda.)
"This was the fourth International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy," Williams said. "Each time we try to add new elements that address emerging challenges and new directions in research. This year's sessions felt as fresh and innovative as ever, adding symposia on climate change, innovative monitoring and data collection, and urban bees. By restricting presenters to those who had not presented in the past six years we also added new voices and perspectives."
"We also grew," Williams said "In the past the conference has been just under 200 attendees. This year it topped 250, and we had to turn away several people because we simply could not fit more into the space. We added a second evening of posters to provide more time to interact. The response was overwhelming with 112 poster presenters!"
"We also added more explicit policy elements by creating a set of ViewPOINTS documents summarizing key areas in pollinator biology and heath that target policy makers. This has allowed for collaborative interaction across the attendees and a set of deliverable products from our interactions."
"It was an amazing team effort pulling it all together," Williams said. "Liz Luu from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center was in a word, fantastic, keeping every thing and everyone together. The HPC really showed what it can do and what tremendous value it adds to our campus. The organizing committee worked so well together, sharing the load throughout. A great set of colleagues!"
Keynote speakers were Lynn Dicks, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, England, and Christina Grozinger, distinguished professor of entomology and director of the Center for Pollinator Research, Pennsylvania State University.
Dicks keynoted the conference on Thursday, July 18, discussing "The Importance of People in Pollinator Conservation." Grozinger delivered the keynote address, "Bee Nutritional Ecology: From Genes to Landscapes" on Friday, July 19.
Elina Lastro Niño delivered a presentation on the California Master Beekeeper Program, which she founded and directs. UC Davis community ecologist Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, presented a talk on her hummingbird research.
Two receptions took place at the Honey and Pollination Conference on Old Davis Road: the opening night reception on Wednesday, July 17 and a honey-tasting and dinner reception on Thursday, July 18.
The next International Pollinator Conference will take place at Pennsylvania State University. Grozinger and Rufus Isaacs of Michigan State University launched the conference in 2012. They are held every third year.
An image of the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology and a global authority on bees, held a prominent place at the conference. He assisted many scientists who have attended the conferences.