Sweeten Your Rosh Hashanah With Fair Trade Honey

Rosh Hashanah Honey CakeNow that we’re in the month of Elul, I’m starting to plan my Rosh Hashanah meals – yummy round raisin challahs, some kind of fish dish, vegetable tsimmes, apple noodle kugel, several salads and vegetable dishes, and of course, ending with a delicious honey cake (see recipe below)!

 Many of us are deeply concerned about the declining numbers of bee colonies around the world, partly because we love watching bees at work and also because they are the major pollinators for most of our food crops.  Major contributing factors include widespread use of pesticides and fungicides and parasitic mites in beehives.  One of the ways each of us can help is by supporting small and local beekeepers, especially those practicing organic farming, both near our communities and from beekeepers around the world.

 Fair Trade Sweetens the Deal

In the US and Europe, a large percentage of the imported honey is produced by impoverished bee keepers in developing countries in Latin America and Asia.  Most bee keeping families live in remote areas, with limited access to transport or market information.  They often lack the infrastructure to store and transport the honey without negatively affecting quality, and haven’t received training that would help them identify the different types of honey, thus losing the opportunity to sell their product at a higher price.

 As a result, many beekeepers are dependent on local middlemen to buy their honey.  Given this weak bargaining position, they’re forced to sell it at fraction of its real market value, and are not able to make a sustainable livelihood.

 Fair Trade offers producers an agreed upon minimum price, independent of market rates.  Bee keeper cooperatives are linked directly to Fair Trade buyers, cutting out the middlemen, and creating longer term sustainability.

 Fair Trade standards for honey assure that:

          Producers are small family farms organized in cooperatives (or associations) which they own and govern democratically

          The minimum Fair Trade price is paid directly to the producer cooperatives, allowing producers to cover their production costs

          Environmental standards restrict the use of agrochemicals and ban genetically modified plants

          Pre-harvest lines of credit are provided to the cooperatives if requested, up to 60% of the purchase price

          No forced or child labor is involved

          A Fair Trade premium is included in the purchase price; the cooperatives choose how to use this additional support for social and economic investments, such as education, health services, processing equipment, and loans to members.

 One Fair Trade bee keeping cooperative, Miel Mexicana, based in Morelos, southern Mexico, has 42 members.  It produces nine different types of honey produced from local plants—sunflower, chamomile, mesquite, orange, avocado, cactus, Mexican lilac, campanula and morning glory.  It was founded in 2001, producing about 3 tons of honey.  After being certified organic and Fair Trade in 2004, it now exports 500 tons, and has won many national and international awards for sustainability and honey quality.

One of its members, Sara, is the cooperative’s first woman beekeeper and serves as the cooperative’s treasurer. She joined the co-op after her father, a long time co-op elder, passed away and Sara inherited his beekeeping operation. Sara’s bees forage on pristine, organic wildflowers deep in protected jungles.   She also helps maintain the cooperative’s organic community garden.

The cooperative unites indigenous people, women, elderly, youth, and adults.  With the Fair Trade premium that they receive, the community is building schools and healthcare centers, as well as providing their members with continued training on fair trade and organic practices.  This enables cooperative members to maintain ties to their ancient indigenous cultures while participating in the global marketplace.  One of their goals is to create jobs to help stem migration to the United States, which negatively affects the family and community structure.  Since 2003, there has been zero migration of its bee keepers to the U.S.

This Rosh Hashanah, sweeten the beekeepers’ lives as well by choosing one of these certified Fair Trade and Kosher honey products:

BossBodywords is an online Etsy store featuring natural products. She has a variety of organic fair trade certified and kosher (Earth Kosher) honey products for sale, many of which are flavored with natural herbs (e.g. cinnamon, cherry, fennel, turmeric).

GloryBee produces a wide variety of OU Kosher Pareve certified Fair Trade organic honey products (raw, coffee blossom, organic). You can buy them on-line or find a local store that carries them.

Heavenly Organics gathers honey from naturally occurring wild beehives in India and the Himalayas. It is 100% raw organic, fair trade certified and OU Kosher certified. You can purchase online or visit their store locator to identify where to purchase the honey near you.

Trader Joes’ Organic Raw Honey also comes from bee-keeping cooperatives in Mexico, and is simply the uncooked “unadulterated nectar” of jungle wildflowers. I t has Circle K (OK) Kosher certification and is available in all their stores.

Wholesome Sweetener’s Organic honeys (raw, amber, bottles/jars), certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, come from Fair Trade cooperatives in Mexico, so the farmers also receive a “sweet” and fair wage. You can now purchase their products online at their Amazon store.


Majestic and Moist Honey Cake

Marcy Goldman, A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking


  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 to 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup warm coffee or strong tea
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup rye or whisky (see Note)
  • 1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds (optional)


Make cake at least 1 day before eating.

Use a 9-inch angel food cake pan, a 9 by 13-inch sheetpan, or three 8 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the pan(s). For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper. For gift honey cakes, I use “cake collars” (available from Sweet Celebrations) designed to fit a specific loaf pan. These give the cakes an appealing, professional look.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Make a well in the center and add the oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee, orange juice, and rye or whisky.

Using a strong wire whisk or an electric mixer on slow speed, combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom of the bowl.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s) – fill about half way as the batter rises, and sprinkle the top of the cake(s) evenly with the almonds. Place the cake pan(s) on 2 baking sheets stacked together and bake until the cake springs back when you touch it gently in the center. For angel, bake for 60 to 70 minutes; loaf cakes, 45 to 55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, the baking time is 40 to 45 minutes. This is a liquidy batter and, depending on your oven, it may need extra time. Cake should spring back when gently pressed.

 Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan. Then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely.