When Dwight Allison, director of Sports Nutrition at Notre Dame, was looking to satisfy the collective sweet tooth of the Fighting Irish football team during its stay on campus, it was Maj. Bill Browne and his bee team that filled the need.
Culver Academies Chef Larry Surrisi said one of the specific items on Allison’s food list was locally produced, raw honey. He called Browne, who is a beekeeper in addition to his instrumental music duties at Culver, to see if he knew anyone capable of supplying approximately 17 pounds of honey over Notre Dame’s five-day stay on campus last month.
“I told him I could do it,” Browne said, adding it took two days to empty the hives, filter the honey, then deliver it to Surrisi. Browne pulls the combs from the hives and spins them in a centrifuge to extract the honey. He next pours the honey through a filter to capture any beeswax or other particles.
The extraction process and filtering don’t hurt the nutritional and health benefits of the honey, Browne said. And, since honey produced locally includes pollen from the local region, it helps bolster the immune system against common allergies. A local region is considered 30 to 50 miles in diameter. Major brands heat their honey to pasteurize it, which eliminates the pollen and many of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, he added.
It is a way of getting the body use to those allergens and allows the body the opportunity to self-immunize against those allergens.
What remained of Browne’s supply for Notre Dame was made available in the Lay Dining Hall. Surrisi made labels for the bottles showing that the honey was collected especially for the Irish. The difference between the pasteurized honey and Browne’s honey could be seen as well as tasted. Browne’s honey was much lighter in color and has a floral sweetness in the taste.
One of the reasons Browne started beekeeping is he suffers from severe allergies, normally from early April through October or November. Using a tablespoon of honey on his morning toast every day since January, “I didn’t have to take any medication until mid- to late June,” he said.
It is also one of the reasons that Allison specifically asked for local, raw honey.
“We like to provide our athletes with energy boosting carbohydrate sources that are not as refined as table sugar,” he said via email. “We also like the benefit of strengthening the athletes’ immune system and improving the response to allergies by providing a honey that bees have infused with local pollen.
“It is a way of getting the body use to those allergens and allows the body the opportunity to self-immunize against those allergens.”
Browne keeps his hives on the south end of Lake Maxinkuckee and just south of Burr Oak. He and instrumental music instructor Chad Gard, who is in charge of the percussion section, also have a joint hive.
It was Gard who got Browne interested in beekeeping as an experiment. Of their original collection of hives, just one remains, Browne said, noting that it has been especially difficult to keep bees alive during the recent winters. Gard also has hives on small farm with his wife, chemistry instructor Xenia Czifrik.