Balyolu (The Honey Road), pronounced “ball-yole-ew”, ( a play on “Ipek Yolu” which means “the Silk Road” in Turkish ) could be even termed a metaphor for the adventure that took Catherine Jaffee from Colorado to the steppes of northeastern Turkey and launch a social venture called Balyolu, that built an industry around hyper-local tourism and helped empower local women to thrive in a whole new niche market – honey tasting. In short, Balyolu is the first honey tasting rural business incubation walking adventure of its kind, led and inspired by village women in Turkey and Asia Minor.
Catherine, a Luce and Fulbright scholar had worked at Ashoka, the Asian Rural Institute, and the Aspen Institute in Colorado, Washington D.C, Turkey, Japan, and Egypt, but it was Turkey, specially, North eastern Turkey – “with its fish hung like laundry from windows, its 9,000 species of flowers, and its delicious honey”, that had her in its irresistible sweet grasp. The lush, untouched steppes of north eastern Turkey, home to the native Kafkas bee, with its geographical location that falls on the ancient Silk Route that once connected Asia and Europe – here was an eco-system, if nourished the right way, would give returns a hundred fold. There were already beekeepers, with most having more than 100 hives but they were mostly traditionally male, and ‘comfortably stuck’ with their set, ‘commercial’ methods of bee-keeping, shifting over to a healthy, organic process as envisioned by Catherine Jaffee was not in their list of priorities.
Catherine focused on empowering the women folk, which was just right for a nation whose unemployment amongst is among the world’s highest, (women employment has slid down from 34.3 percent in 1988 to 21.6 percent in 2008 ) and with the right amount of training and encouragement, in small but significant steps, they would gain a reasonable degree of financial independence, enhance self-worth and as productive members of the community, will inspire and encourage more women folk to join the “Sweet Revolution”.
Having successfully set in motion the training for the rookie women-bee keepers through the Marmara Grubu 3-month program in bee-keeping in July, 2011, Catherine elaborates on her leaders of Turkey’s organic beekeeping revolution in her blog, “Women beekeepers on the other hand are just getting started. And the group of beekeepers that I have fallen into – who will graduate from a three-month organic beekeeping course with the Marmara Grubu THIS Friday – are ready and trained to do nothing but keep bees organically. They have anywhere from four to 12 hives, which is just few enough to experiment with, make mistakes, and even start over without enduring major losses. Not all of them will continue, but whereas many beekeeping beginners might become frustrated and stop, these women and their families have gone through a great deal to complete this organic beekeeping course. While courses such as these have been done in the past, and many women eventually do give up because they lack the right support and connection to markets, a long-term program that provides these services would help them launch this new skill into a full-fledged profession as a local organic honey leader (this would be the hope of Balyolu).”
And to sustain the hope and power the spirit of this innovative enterprise, Catherine and her team hit upon the idea of Honey-tasting walking tours – “a new environmental spin on wine tasting, pioneering a whole new field around the tastes, cultures, and experiences of honey.” Based out of Kars, Balyolu plans to start four pilot adventures on the honey road, each involving a group of 10 – 12 travelers on a 7 night and 7 day adventure that involves” home-cooked regional cuisine and walking routes on nomadic trade paths. They will visit ancient cities and fortresses, historic lakes, deep green valleys and high mountain villages, all the while tasting the unique flavours of honey from each region. Travelers will learn from local specialists about the region’s flowers, nature, history, food, music, and - of course – honey.”
To fund the Walking Tour, she put the Balyolu project on Kickstarter with a goal to raise $35,000 by February 26th, 2012 and received a pledge of $ 41,593 for the project in 30 days with 274 backers ! The four trips that have been planned will now go according to schedule, with the first starting on May 19th 2012, and the last ending on August 2nd, 2012. Catherine Jaffee’s social startup will invest the returns from the Tours back into the community, on marketing, training, bee-keeping workshops and encouraging local business ventures focused on women.
Here is wishing Catherine Jaffee’s vision of “a moving marketplace of experiences – recreating the Silk Road journey of connecting cultures and goods, while providing specialized environmental livelihoods for women and their villages” the very best.