It wasn’t out of character for Stratus Properties to have an apiary fi lled with up to one million bees placed on the rooftop of Block 21, a downtown high-rise development that’s home to the W Austin Hotel. In fact, ever since Valerie Broussard began working as the food and beverage buyer and forager for the hotel and its on-site restaurant Trace, she says she has seen a genuine commitment to environmental stewardship from both Stratus, the owner of the property, and the hotel’s management.
For example, the 37-story building has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certifi cation. Since Broussard’s job description emphasizes sourcing with sustainably grown, local ingredients, her request for an herb garden was quickly granted and she gets to brainstorm each month with a committee about how to divert more waste from the landfill.
But when Broussard expressed an interest in an on-site apiary, she was surprised at Stratus’s response. “They said, ‘Actually, we’re already working on it.’” Stratus had contacted Walter Schumacher, the founder of the nonprofit organization Central Texas Bee Rescue, who has since installed the new Block 21 apiary featuring about 10 hives of rescued bees. “When people have bees in their attic or their garage, some companies will come out and exterminate them, but not Walter,” Broussard says. “He’ll come out, remove them, rehabilitate them and give them a new hive to nest in.”
While the new digs may be providing a safe haven for the bees, the new residents are certainly earning their keep by pollinating the hotel’s organic culinary garden. “We’ve had a borage plant that produces these little, edible purple fl owers with a cucumber fl avor to them,” Broussard says. “I’ve never picked so many borage fl owers…and then the next day, I could go back there, and more [are] already open and ready to be picked.”
There’s also the six hundred pounds of raw, mineral-rich honey that the bees are providing per spin, as the honey extraction process is known. (The timeline for spinning varies each year.) “It obviously doesn’t get more local than that,” says Candice Betz, director of the hotel’s AWAY Spa, who notes that they’re using the honey for everything from the signature “body honey” massage and body scrub to an antioxidant- rich sugar-and-honey lipstick rub.
Lawrence Kocurek, chef de cuisine for Trace, says he and his team have also been developing new menu items using the honey as an ingredient for diff erent kinds of shrubs (also known as drinking vinegars), housemade ice creams and even in a cure for bacon. “It’s great and really fascinating as a chef to have this at your disposal,” Kocurek says. “It’s kind of the sky is the limit as to how we can incorporate the honey into more things.”
While it’s exciting to make use of the bounty, Broussard is also aware of the pressing need to protect these critically important insects. “We need bees,” she says. “We need them for our food crops and the health of the environment. They are just a good thing to have.” —Nicole Lessin For more information, visit traceaustin.com/honey