Ontario Canadian Food Hero: Brian Hamlin

Photo: Fairmount Farmer's Market

There are only a few flavours that I have come across in my lifetime that no matter how many times I taste, I just can't convince my tastebuds that they are anything less than horrible. I have swayed them over the years that olives can be enjoyed and they are even starting to believe that venison is edible, but the two flavours resisting all attempts are watermelon and honey.

But now I have someone else on my side working to convince my tastebuds that not only is honey delicious naturally but once flavoured it can become otherworldly and his name is Brian Hamlin.

I have the pleasure of being at a couple of the same Farmer's Markets in the Greater Toronto Area with Brian and even though his honey hasn't fully convinced my taste buds to enjoy the flavour, Brian has my husband and I contemplating keeping bees ourselves. He speaks passionately and articulately about the importance of bees and breaks down any mental barriers one might have when it comes to the thoughts of keeping bees yourself. We all know how important bees are to agriculture and articles like this that came out earlier this summer simply reinforce their importance.

But honey is not only important to our local agriculture, it has huge health benefits, that Brian talks about in this article.

Brian is a self described hippy who has been keeping bees for almost four decades and his passion for his bees is completely contagious. His bees are raised as naturally as possible. He keeps them away from sprayed fields and uses no antibiotics or sugars. But it wasn't just his delicious honey which my husband eats by the heaping spoonful or his laid back personality that has us leaning towards beekeeping.

First off Brian has hives in suburban as well as downtown locations. They are not all out in the country as one would imagine. He has hives on the Toronto Islands, at the UTSC (University of Toronto Scarborough Campus) and even the 8th floor of University of Toronto's New College at College and Spadina. According to Brian, the diverse vegetation in the city changes the flavour of the honey leading to more complex tastes than honey from rural areas, where bees generally gather pollen from mono-cropped fields.

Photo: Fairmount Farmer's Market

He uses his beekeeping as an educational tool to promote awareness of local food sustainability and the importance of pollination for environmental health. Honeybees pollinate crops and flowers, and have taken on greater importance lately given the population decline of other pollinators like butterflies and wild bees. He is active in the Urban Toronto Beekeepers Association and the mentor of the University of Toronto students bee club.
He talks a lot about how even though bees are just small insects that they play a huge roll in our survival and when he talks, others listen. He may just be a small Ontario beekeeper, but he is collecting a hive of followers in his path.
Brian's passion and commitment to Ontario bees, his local presence at farmer's markets and his mentorship of students is why he is my Canadian Food Experience Regional Food Hero for August.

Photo: Fairmount Farmer's Market

The Canadian Food Experience is a collection of Canadian bloggers sharing our stories through regional perspective bringing clarity to our Canadian culinary identity.