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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

All Abuzz Thanks to Bees

For MT
Get in touch with your inner Winnie the Pooh -- visit the 18th Russian National Honey Fair, now under way at Tsaritsyno park.

The fair, organized by the State Union of Beekeepers, showcases 87 varieties of honey as well as other honey products, from beeswax to royal jelly and medovukha, or mead.

Making and consuming honey products is deeply rooted in Russian tradition; it is one of the oldest aspects of the country's agriculture. Beekeeping is not only a task for professionals, but also a popular hobby. It has attracted everyone from monks and nuns to retirees and even Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

The National Honey Fair comes on the heels of Medovy Spas, a Russian Orthodox holiday celebrated Aug. 14.

Alexander Blokhin, the press liaison for Danilovsky Monastery, said Medovy Spas was an amalgamation of an official church holiday and the folk tradition of giving thanks for the harvest of honey, which is gathered this time of year. The monastery is affiliated with a honey farm in the Ryazan region and maintains a bee-products store near the Tulskaya metro station called Medovy Spas.

"Medovy Spas is not technically an Orthodox holiday, the official holiday is the Exultation of the Cross," Blokhin said. "But thanking God for honey has been so ingrained in the Russian people that now the two occasions are inseparable."

Nina Gagarina, a beekeeper from the Kuban region who was selling her wares at the honey fair, said Medovy Spas was a big deal for apiarists. "Everyone goes to church and it is traditional to leave a little honey for the priest," she said. "Then we have a feast and we make blinis. There is always dancing and some people even dress in traditional costumes."

In modern Russia, honey is a favorite folk remedy. Honey and other bee products are said to possess medicinal qualities that aid anything from heart trouble to conjunctivitis. Propolis, a gluelike substance, can be used as an antiseptic. Pyltsa, or pollen, is said to improve one's appetite, sleep and spirits.

Lisa Azarova / For MT
It is customary to taste the different honeys at the fair before making your choice.
One of the fair's visitors, Lyudmila Pelenova, said she felt much healthier after giving up sugar in favor of honey. She said she has been coming to the fall honey fair for six years and buys enough honey to last her until the following September.

Mayor Luzhkov has been instrumental in bringing honey fairs to Moscow and making them popular. Each year, the Beekeepers' Union hosts two honey fairs, one in September and one in February. In the past, the autumn event was held at Kolomenskoye, but many customers said they preferred the newly renovated Tsaritsyno park venue.

September's fair has brought 730 participants from 51 regions; Rostov, Krasnodar and Vladimir are among the most well-represented, honey-producing regions. To take part in the fair, participants must go through a rigorous screening process that tests the quality of their product. Government experts on the quality of agricultural products are in charge of testing the honey.

"The fairs are great," said Blokhin. "If you buy honey that doesn't taste right to you, you can take it to one of the testing stations they set up and find out if it was made improperly. Sometimes they even have microscopes so you can look at the honey crystals yourself," he added, "but that's just for fun."

Several customers said that while they did not doubt the quality of any products at the fair, they were wary of high prices. Some preferred to return to the same vendors year after year. Marina Botcherova, who is a longtime participant in the honey fair, offers repeat customers a discount: "It's always great to see regular customers because they know you and trust your product."

For beekeepers, however, the fair isn't just about selling honey; it is a time to celebrate their harvest and take pride in their hard work. Vendors decorate their stands with flowers, toy bumblebees and photographs of their honey farms. One stand proudly displays a snapshot of Luzhkov visiting last year's fair. All of the participants are thrilled to invite you to sample their product and tell you all about the benefits of honey.

The National Honey Fair runs 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily until Oct. 5 at Tsaritsyno State Park, Ul. Tyurina, M. Tsaritsyno. Entry is free. Inquiries to the State Union of Beekeepers, 951-8167/1012.