Do you know what mead is? I must admit, before meeting fellow van friends at Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Meadery, I didn’t. I knew I would be with great people, the sun was shining, and the road was calling and that was all that mattered! We had previously camped together at another unique Harvest Host location, Elliott Tree Farm, and that experience was fantastic. As much as I can be a planner, I love a surprise adventure. Whether it’s seeing an unknown movie at the cinema, or going to a concert without knowing the musician, or travelling to a destination having only the coordinates, the experience is always as fantastic as the company with whom you share it.
What is Harvest Hosts?
Harvest Hosts is the ultimate way to experience vanlife. The premise is simple: beverage companies (beer, wine, cider), farms, tourism organizations, and other willing businesses allow vanlifers to stay free for a night or two, with the understanding that they will purchase something from the host. So far, I’ve stayed at a cidery, a Christmas tree farm, and a meadery! I didn’t even know what mead was before my visit and now I can’t wait to go back. Not only was my vantry stocked after each stay, but I learned all sorts of new tidbits, getting the opportunity to tour behind-the-scenes and meet the owners of each establishment. You can see why I love Harvest Hosts so much. The only (current) downside is that there aren’t more hosts in Canada. I do think that that’s because it’s not as well-known here and look forward to more places catching on and joining the platform as word spreads.
I first heard about Harvest Hosts through YouTubers Kara and Nate when they travelled throughout the US in their van during the pandemic. After seeing all the cool locations they stayed at, I knew that once I found my van home, I’d be signing up for a membership too. It’s still relatively new in Canada, but I’m hoping that more businesses will join the platform so that I, and others in the community, will have many more local places to explore. If Harvest Hosts sounds like something you or someone you know would be interested in too, here’s 15% off an annual membership when you click here and use code HHFRIENDS15. On the other hand, head here if you have a business and are interested in becoming a host or send me an email if you’ve got any questions about hosting! Gregg shared with us that he’s always had wonderful interactions with his Harvest Host guests.
A Most Lovely First Visit
I arrived last, excited to see everyone. My van twin, Pam, had raved about her previous Harvest Host stay at Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Ridge Meadery, owned by Gregg Scott and his family. Her enthusiastic reviews were what initiated the group gathering. The gang was at a picnic table, enjoying the lively music, sipping samples of mead, and catching up. During the summer, the Farm hosts Saturday Mead and Music events. Local musicians entertain the crowds and local artists sell their creations. It was the perfect setting to get together. I quickly settled in and ordered my own flight of rhubarb, haskap sangria, haskap semi-sweet, and barrel-aged blond mead. Even though one of our group members was allergic to bees, everyone was at ease, soaking in the summery vibes at York Region’s 1st commercial honey winery and tasting room.
The hospitality from Gregg’s family was fantastic. One of his 2 daughters served our table and answered our endless questions about the Farm, mead, and their epic haskap berry mead sangria. When I say you must drive to Circling Hawk Honey Farm to try the sangria, you really must. It’s not sold anywhere else. In fact, Circling Hawk’s products are only sold on-site and often sell out.
Later that evening, after the musicians and regular guests had left, we moved our vans to their parking spots for the night. Gregg and his daughter closed up the shop and gave us an impromptu informal history of the Farm. We also met his parents, who are in their 90s and absolutely incredible. It turns out that Al, Gregg’s father, is a master fire maker which we witnessed first-hand as he built us a roaring campfire later that evening. Al was full of hilarious quips that punctuated our hours-long fireside chat. He insisted that he and Gregg are buddies, that age truly is just a number, and that a good fire poker is a necessary campfire tool. If there is a poster person for the young at heart, it’s Al.
Though our van group had hung out only a few times, we were fast friends by this point. Gregg and Al, strangers to us and us to them when we first arrived, also quickly connected. Our conversation that night ranged from music (Gregg is is a talented bass player in a 3-piece band called The Generations that play rock classics from the 60s and 70s), to how to build the perfect campfire, to human connection, mead and honey extraction rooms, new menu items (we’ll be keeping our eyes out for the green tea and honey, honeycomb with seeds, and bottled sangria!), Harvest Hosts and vanlife volunteers, weather prediction, pickleball, and everything in between. On the top of the moraine, 285 metres above Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario with the crickets singing and stars smiling, Gregg revealed that the land gave the Farm its name, “Ridge Meadery”.
About Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Ridge Meadery
Atop a hill crest on a 25-acre property in the north end of Richmond Hill, millions of diligent workers go about their business in harmony. The boss’ only job is to make sure there is an never-ending supply of employees. Management is unnecessary. Everyone knows their role and fulfills it to the best of their abilities at all times. The operation is seamless, perfection even, save for weather snafus or the ultimate pest, humans. Bees know best, after all.
There are a few giant bipeds that interfere in opportune and unobtrusive ways. Gregg Scott is one of said group.
The Bees of the Oak Ridges Moraine
Gregg and 3 generations of his family occupy the land they’ve named Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Ridge Meadery. Here, ethical beekeeping practices are central to the mission, hence why the winged explorers don’t mind the humans’ presence. Together, the bees and the Scotts produce pure natural honey, the most delicious cheesecake, and soulful mead. For their part, the bees forage along the Oak Ridges Moraine, an ecologically abundant and rare area known as “the rain barrel of Southern Ontario”. They are attracted to wildflower blossoms such as alfalfa, buckthorn, golden rod, and more which give the golden liquid its unique local flavours.
A Second Career
Gregg came to farming as a second career after building a successful company, Energy Shop. In that life he was an engineer in the energy industry where he focused on natural gas and energy conservation. Gradually, he and his family moved north from Richmond Hill’s suburbs into farm country. In 2009 they bought the Farm from an octogenarian animal chiropractor on a whim and haven’t looked back since.
When we stayed at Circling Hawk, Gregg kindly gave us a tour of the property. In addition to honey production and growing berries, they have several apple and pear trees which their 4-legged summer boarders munch on. There’s a 3,000 square foot stable, though the horses spend nearly all of their time in the 3 grassy paddocks playing in the sun.
The Secret Ingredient
Many different types of berries were already planted on the Farm, which inspired the introduction of the bees. That, and Gregg’s realization that he was not well-suited to other types of farming. In fact, haskap berries found on the property, also known as honeyberries, are what give many of the Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Meadery treats their unique flavour. What started as hundreds of buzzers rapidly and exponentially multiplied. Now, most of the Circling Hawk bees are located on other farms on land owned by other farmers. Everyone shares the honey and adds their own label to the treasured jars.
During an Ontario Beekepers’ Association meeting a rep from the LCBO gave a presentation, complete with tasting samples, on honey wine. It was love at first sip. Fuelled by this new opportunity to experiment, Gregg figured out how to secure licensing for the Farm and cannonballed into the world of mead. Initially one of his two daughters, her husband, and a nephew fulfilled the production team roles. Then, before the Scotts knew it, there was so much mead that it was time to expand.
In 2021, the area where the honey used to be stored was transformed into a bar, but not for long. Now it’s the honey store with a wee bit of storage in the back. As Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Meadery continues to meet the public’s growing demand and ravenous appetite for their tasty goodies, it is safe to say that further expansion is in their future.
What is Mead?
If you’re unfamiliar with what mead is, welcome to the club. I had absolutely no idea what it was before staying at the one-of-a-kind Harvest Host. Also known as honey wine and the “Nectar of the Gods”, mead is an ancient alcoholic beverage made by fermenting yeast, water, and honey. Unlike cider, there is no such thing as non-alcoholic mead.
As far back as 20,000 B.C. there are indications of mead production and consumption throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe. The ancient Romans worshipped Bacchus, known as Dionysus to the Greeks, who was the god of mead before wine and pleasure were added to his domains. In Egypt, mead has been discovered in King Tut’s tomb. Throughout literary history, mentions of mead have cropped up classics like Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales. The Vikings made a special mead for their royalty and another for the regular folk.
So why are many people today not as familiar with this ancient potion? For starters, wine and beer tend to be the crowd favourites worldwide. However, the bees are back in town and mead is regaining its popularity. As versatile as honey is in cooking and baking, mead matches its flexibility in the realm of alcoholic beverages. For example, at Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Meadery, their menu includes several fruity combinations known as melomels, such as fan favourite Haskap Berry, as well as Tangy Rhubarb. They also make traditional versions, like their earthy Barrel-Aged Amber and sharper Barrel-Aged Blond, and bochet which is mead fermented from caramelized honey. At Circling Hawk they also have a semi-sweet mead infused with rosemary and thyme, and hop-flavoured drinks like the Hop Headed Spiced Amber mead. Their Hop Amber Honey Wine is aged for a year in a Jamaican rum barrel that Gregg picked up while touring meaderies in the US. Then there are the levelled up concoctions like their Mojito Mead and Haskap Berry Sangria. The possibilities are endless and delicious.
In addition to honey products, Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Meadery is a registered member of the Ontario Queen Breeders and the Ontario Resistant Honey Bee Selection Program. They’re committed to providing sustainably bred queens and nucs to commercial groups and the general public who wish to begin their own apiaries. Circling Hawk is on a mission to contribute in an ethical and responsible way to managing pollinators and to provide the best honey in the province. Currently their pollinators are scattered throughout York Region and the Farm is looking for more members to join.
Queens are, of course, the heart of a hive. Their role is two-fold: lay eggs to supply the hive and produce scents that regulate the colony. A nuc, short for “nucleus colony”, is the second component required to start beekeeping and is a mini version of an established colony of honey bees. Generally it has 2-5 frames in a box, complete with worker and drone bees born of the queen. They are already used to her pheromones and ready to work. Additionally, new eggs, larvae, and pupae, as well as honey and pollen are included.
A Warning from the Earth
Unfortunately, the climate crisis, pesticides, and pollution have had devastating consequences for bee populations around the world. The results have been no different in Ontario. In 2022 alone, Circling Hawk’s York Region bee population was decimated. Around 90-95% of the bees died. On his family farm, nearly half of their bees met the same fate, suffering only slightly less because they were bred to be resistant to a specific parasitic mite. As you can imagine, the ripple effects of losing such a huge and important part of our ecosystem are horrifying. Luckily there are many actions people can take to help. For starters, ditch the pesticides and fertilizer. Consider planting a yard with native flowers and plants that are pollinator-friendly. Bonus – they’re super low maintenance! There are many more ideas on how you can positively contribute to supporting a healthier ecosystem on websites like the David Suzuki Foundation. Every little bit helps and everyone has an impact on the world around them.
Health Benefits of Honey
It is a well-known fact that there are many benefits derived from honey, whether ingested or used topically. It can help regulate blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and blood pressure, and improve heart health and blood fat levels. It’s also a known antidote for sore throats, decaying teeth, and digestive grumbles. Some honey has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits. But how can you know which honey is best?
Dark vs. Light, Comb, Pollen, Crystallized, Raw vs. Pasteurized
To begin, darker honey, such as buckwheat or Manuka, has more antioxidants than lighter honey. That being said, do not dismiss the fairer elixir. Lighter-coloured honey, such as acacia and clover, still gift many perks to its consumer. Then there’s comb honey, pollen, crystallized honey, and raw vs. pasteurized selections to consider.
Comb honey is as pure as it gets. It provides even greater health benefits than liquid or creamed honey thanks to the wax capping preventing oxidization. It pairs well with toast or nuts or honey peppermint tea. You can chew honeycomb like gum, though it doesn’t dissolve. In the slightly altered words of 90s icon, Lamb Chop, “This is the gum that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends”. (Good luck getting that tune out of your head!)
Bee pollen changes the appearance of liquid honey to appear foggier, whereas clearer honey is more processed. Some people call pollen granules flower powder. It is believed that when pollen and honey are eaten together, the benefits multiply. Pollen can also be mixed into tea, cereal, juice or smoothies, yogurt, apple sauce and so on, though be careful with the amounts you use or if you have allergies.
Crystallized honey can be spread like butter or warmed to return it to a liquid state. It’s best to do this in a warm water bath instead of using a microwave. Pasteurized honey is processed to improve shelf life and sweeteners like corn syrup are often added to it, thus reducing its health benefits. On the other hand, raw honey comes from the hive and is the least processed, thus possessing the most rewards. One of these such rewards comes from propolis, a resin that bees produce from sap-producing trees and similar plants, which might improve cholesterol levels. Remember, in order to maintain honey’s antiseptic properties it must be kept in a dry and dark space.
In addition to all of the perks of eating honey, besides its delicious taste, there are many medical uses as well. Since the Stone Age, this magical natural healer has been used to treat wounds and burns. It is also used as a post-surgery remedy for skin infections and it’s suggested that it can be effective in treating some forms of skin cancer. Luckily, you don’t need to have a gaping wound, scary disease, or ghastly burn to feel the benefits. People with skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, eczema, and herpes lesions have also reaped the plentiful benefits of honey.
There are a few important “don’ts” to keep in mind. First, never feed honey to children under 1 year old. It can cause infant botulism, which can lead to muscle weakness, a weak cry, and trouble breathing, or even result in death. Second, beware of honey that is made with products from many countries. Local honey is always the best honey. And third, Manuka honey is sold twice as much as it’s produced worldwide. Simple math will tell you this is a glaring problem.
Experiences: Honeybee Farm Tours and Beekeeping 101 Workshop
Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Ridge Meadery offers a family-friendly (over 7 years of age) Honey Bee Experience Farm Tour, as well as an intensive Beekeeping 101 workshop that is led by the head Apiarist. Both are around 80 minutes in length, are offered weekly from early June until late September, and include a honey or mead tasting. The experiences must be booked online.
Plan Your Visit
Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Ridge Meadery is a fantastic destination for everyone to put on their Ontario summer travel list. Parking is free and dogs are welcome, so long as they are on a leash at all times. The walkup order window is open every day, all day. You can order online or in-person, and cash, debit, and credit are all accepted methods of payment. Gift certificates can also be purchased. Saturdays in the summer are worth a spot on your social calendar as they are, in my humble opinion, the best days to visit! That’s when the wine bar is open from 12pm until 4:30pm, with energetic live music for entertainment. Whatever you do, do not forget to bring a cooler so that you can load up your vehicle with Gregg’s daughter’s famous farm fresh cheesecakes. She makes several flavours, including Haskap Berry, Lemon, and Salted Honey with Raspberry. Other items for purchase include honey in a variety of jar sizes, 1kg chunks of honey, comb honey, pollen, and honey wine (mead).
If you’re planning a wedding, the Farm can host up to 120 people under a 30-foot tent. Speaking of events, this is the place to order your party favours from! Their honey is so popular for events that they ship about 600 jars per week during peak season. Everything comes with a custom label and you can choose between 6 different sizes, ranging from 56g to 400g.
How to Get There
Circling Hawk Honey Farm and Meadery is located in the north end of Richmond Hill, at 13433 Leslie Street.
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