A day in the life of Dinah Sweet
Presenting a honey judge's workshop in Trinidad
5.30 am Tobago - Collected by my long-time friend, Gladstone Solomon, en route to Crown Point Airport. Our conversation was about the devastation from hurricane Ivan the previous week. Sadly there had been one death on Tobago and lots of roofs blown away, and some huge trees uprooted. As the Trinidad & Tobago (T&T} beekeepers had some warning of the adverse weather, most hives had been tied down and secured. (Grenada 560 km away had been flattened when the hurricane struck with full force, and many lives lost). On the short flight we discussed the practicalities of making mead.
7.05 am Trinidad - Driving to the Department of Agriculture in central Trinidad, the venue for this workshop on the assessment and judging of T&T honey. On arrival we entered a large airconditioned room with over 100 jars of honey plus other bee products such as pollen, candles and beeswax, arranged on tables. I was introduced to Shaun, a lively, busy commercial beekeeper and the main organiser of the | workshop. watched as the officials anonymised the jars so that there would be no bias in the assessment.
8.30 am - The room quickly filled up with beekeepers from all sides of the island. Everyone joined in enthusiastically as we considered practical and scientific strategies for producing theperfect jar of honey.
9.30 am - The introduction by Mr Hallim, T&T's Government inspector of Apiaries. He was looking remarkably good after a recent heart bypass operation and was truly on form. I continued the seminar and we exchanged ideas about the objective criteria that should be used first in assessing honey, such as cleanliness and brightness. We also talked about the local climatic conditions of very high humidity and high ambient temperature and the practicalities of extracting only fully sealed and ripened honey to maintain a good quality product. Subjective criteria were then discussed which are much more difficult to standardise, as taste and smell vary according to gender, age and whether the honey judge smokes.
9.30 am - The introduction by Mr Hallim, T&T's Government inspector of Apiaries. He was looking remarkably good after a recent heart bypass operation and was truly on form. I continued the seminar and we exchanged ideas about the objective criteria that should be used first in assessing honey, such as cleanliness and brightness. We also talked about the local climatic conditions of very high humidity and high ambient temperature and the practicalities of extracting only fully sealed and ripened honey to maintain a good quality product.
10.30 am - During a working breakfast the team of nine local honey judges (some experienced judges' stewards but most new to judging honey), thrashed out the final objective criteria that we would use to set an agreed standard, and also the ranking of these criteria. Showing excellent teamwork skills, we listened to everyone's opinions before drawing up a consensus.
11.00 am - Provided with white coats and pure cotton gloves for the judging, and after a few photographs for a national newspaper, we were organised into five groups of three. Every group included a scribe to note the grades for each characteristic and to write down relevant feedback comments. Each team was assigned a different area of the island from where they lived, to prove to the participants that no bias was involved. I was part of one team but kept an eye on the others, eavesdropping on the conversations to verify that their final decisions were really a consensus of ideas. The room ‘buzzed' with dialogue, humour, critical appraisal and respect for one other. A number of amazing light boxes had been made to use in the judging process, to check the clarity of the honey. This island honey show was even an improvement on the facilities at the National Honey Show in London.
1.30 pm- final 'best of the lot! was agreed and the collaborative tasks came to an end with lunch. All the winning honeys were to be displayed in a large show at the end of November with many stands selling honey and bee products.
2.00 - I gave a quick account of the assessment criteria for the pollen, candles and beeswax which then left the organisers the task of decoding the results and announcing the winners. The workshop concluded with a summary of the important outcomes achieved and the processes involved in getting there.
3.15 pm - The feedback was that everyone had really enjoyed the day. This honey show had been a model of collaboration in action, concluding with a good feeling of achievement all round. I will always remember this day as | awarded a special trophy for ‘conducting the workshop and judging of beekeeping products in a sincere and professional manner.
Dinah Sweet is a Welsh honey judge with a Diploma in Apiculture from Cardiff University, where she is a lecturer in the School of
Health Care Studies