Sustainability Buzz About Rooftop Honey

Chicken or bees is an odd question to contemplate, even odder when it’s the starting point for a new business.

But it proved a lucrative one for Rooftop Honey, the Melbourne business that truly is changing the world, one beehive at a time.

Husband and wife Mat Lumalasi and Vanessa Kwiatkowski found themselves thinking of ways to make the most out of their city block, sustainably speaking. It quickly became a question of raising chickens or keeping bees, but the facts sealed the deal.

“Every one out of three mouthfuls that you take is estimated to have been pollinated by bees,” claims Lumalasi.“Around 60 percent of our agricultural crops are dependent on this – cherries 100%, stone fruit and apples in the 90% region — essentially any produce with bright colours and strong flavours desperately needs bees.

“It’s estimated that the free pollination service provided by bees is worth between $6-8 billion to Australia’s economy. These bees are extremely important.”

The chef’s call

But there are limits on the amount of bees that can be kept based on land size in Victoria, and the couple found themselves in a sticky situation, so to speak.

It was more than half a decade ago, and roughly one year into the business, that a local chef approached Rooftop Honey to set up his own beehives. Very quickly, Rooftop Honey became more than a side business and a full-time job, with half a dozen hives turning into 25 within the first 12 months. That figure has since blown out to 130 hive locations around Melbourne.

“At first, an awareness piece about bees advantages was necessary, but these days chefs are looking for points of difference, and beehives give them this amazing ability to be fairly hands-free while creating their own local ingredient to use in the kitchen,” says Lumalasi.

Rooftop Honey has worked with many well-known businesses in the past throughout the state, including the latest addition to the Emporium in the CBD, giving Rooftop Honey a newfound ability to take large education groups through a full-scale site.

Healthy bee, healthy life

Rooftop Honey was never intended to become a big business, simply starting as a hobby. For this reason, the “little guy” always comes first.

Even if they seem to be doing a world of good for the environment, many beekeeping practices are not sustainable at all, something that Rooftop Honey knew from the beginning.

Working with nature alone doesn’t make a business sustainable, as Lumalasi points out.

“For many in the honey industry, honey is money, so every year they take every last bit of the honey from the bees to sell to customers, and then feed sugar syrup to the bees as their food during winter,” he says.

“Some people aren’t aware that honey is the bee’s food for winter. Feeding them sugar syrup is basically the equivalent of being fed McDonald’s all winter long, which makes them sick, and then we start to see the problems we are seeing in bee colonies in other parts of the world.”

Where some would let greed get in the way and exploit the environment, Rooftop Honey treads carefully, respecting their bees as masters of the environment.

Lumalasi believes bees come first, and it would fall squarely on the keeper if they took so much honey they needed to then feed the bees to keep them alive. Rooftop Honey says they need 8-10kg of honey on average to get one colony through winter.

“We have to show the bees respect for what they’re doing — Bees don’t work for you; you are actually a steward to them,” he says.

The good buzz

When people don’t ‘get’ the bee thing — because bees scare them or they hate honey — Lumalasi just asks them if they like to eat. Liking bees becomes a no-brainer.

His tips for being the best in business are similarly simple.

“Think about where you’re sourcing your products from,” he cautions.

“Having top quality produce that has been sourced sustainably and naturally, then it will reflect in the flavour – people will always pay for quality.”