Burrowed in the back of a valley, a local ‘ohana has been quietly producing the island’s most unique honey.
On O‘ahu’s leeward coast, miles of skykissed sand meander alongside the twolane highway. Cars slow as drivers, in no hurry to make their turns, crawl through Nānākuli, Mā‘ili, Wai‘anae. The pace of life on the West Side, like the traffic, is languid. It’s as if the heat makes everything as slow as syrup. Or honey.
Tucked in the back of Lualualei Valley, Tolentino Honey Co. has been quietly producing some of the most unique honey on O‘ahu. Raw and only coarsely filtered, it retains more pollen and enzymes than its heat-treated and pasteurized counterparts. The resulting honey’s flavor is richer. It will also often crystallize within a month, turning from smooth, golden liquid to creamy, white frosting. This distinctive honey began as the unintentional byproduct of a very real problem. In 2007, vegetable farmer Lito Tolentino noticed diminished squash yields and a curious lack of feral bees. He started hand-pollinating the squash blossoms, an arduous task that started at 4 a.m. and took hours each day.
“He was the bee!” jokes Marina, Lito’s daughter-in-law. The next year, they called the University of Hawai‘i Honeybee Project, which resulted in the Tolentinos adopting their first hive of bees. Lito’s pollination problem was solved, while his wife Dory’s interest in bees was just beginning. The bees thrived in the hot, dry Wai‘anae climate. By 2016, when Lito and Dory’s son, Ryan, returned home from California with Marina and their baby, Roman, Dory had accumulated more than 250 hives— including some housed in makeshift hives made of cardboard boxes. The bees had multiplied so quickly there wasn’t time to make them wooden hives.
Marina and Ryan pared down the hives and oversaw honey production, selling the honey at farmers markets and to highend restaurants and resorts. They couldn’t keep up with the demand for their honey, prompting Ryan to leave his job as a federal background investigator in order to tend to the hives full-time. Last year, the Tolentinos harvested approximately 5,000 pounds of honey. For the young couple, beekeeping brought a sweet, unexpected perspective. From the subtle changing of Hawai‘i’s seasons to the flowering patterns of local trees, nature’s cycles could be seen everywhere, most especially in the hives.
“It became meditative almost,” says Marina of the steady rhythm of life found within the hive. “You’re seeing a whole life cycle in your hand from egg to adult bee, right there.” These cycles are also visible in Ryan and Roman’s childhoods on the Wai‘anae farm. Just as Ryan once did, Roman steers the tractor from Lito’s lap and plays with farm tools as if they’re the most interesting toys.
“We started the honey with the mission of it being a legacy project to hand down to the next generation,” Marina said. While there’s no guarantee Roman will continue the honey enterprise, Marina and Ryan are happy their son loves the bees so much. At school, they say, he even calls himself the breakdancing beekeeper. “Our kid is getting a cool experience,” Marina says. Ryan adds, “I definitely feel like I’m reliving my childhood through Roman’s eyes.”
For those interested, visit https://www.tolentinohoneyco.com/