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Big Island Bees
with Tomoko Samiere 

By Sharonne Gracia


Have you ever walked around a farmers market and thought about the story behind each of those little booths, the workers or products? It was a thought that often crossed my mind. Working in one of those booths was one of my many dreams; selling something people love and smile over. It wasn’t until moving to Hawai’i and meeting my boyfriend Kai that I had the opportunity to get a deeper look into the magic behind a local honey booth at the KCC Farmers Market in Diamond Head.

Tomoko Samiere, Kai’s mother, is the heart and soul behind her “Hawaiilicious – Big Island Bees” booth. She’s not a woman of many words, but she’s definitely a woman of action. On the first and third Saturdays of the month, while the world sleeps, she’s wide awake at 4am, a quiet force setting up her honey booth. More than 10 years of this routine hasn’t slowed her down one bit. Unpacking heavy boxes, setting up the tent, and arranging delicate jars of honey, she does it all with determined ease.

Tomoko’s hard work and commitment reminds me of the busy bee: tirelessly collecting nectar to create something sweet and valuable.

The Hawaiilicious booth isn’t just a stall, it’s a small, inviting oasis amidst the busy market. Each of her jars tells a story of the ‘āina, the tireless work of the bees, and the dedication of the woman behind it. Take the Ohia Lehua for example. This symbolic flower is known for its resilience and its ability to bloom after volcanic destruction. Ohia Lehua honey is more than just delicious, it’s a taste of Hawaiian culture and spirit.

My first time meeting Tomoko was at her booth about a year ago. It was a busy day, and the booth was surrounded with people. Yet, Tomoko managed the crowd with grace. I remember a warm smile, hug, and a dip of a small honey sample. The honey spoke for itself. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted. That first interaction became a memory as sweet and golden as the honey and Tomoko herself.

Tomoko maintains a close friendship with the producer of the honey: Whendi, owner of Big Island Bees, usually known as the “Queen Bee”. Whendi represents a family legacy of four generations of beekeepers. The process begins on the Big Island, where Whendi and her team painstakingly raise the bees, then carefully hand tap honey from the hives into glass jars. Unlike large-scale packers on the mainland, they don’t use sophisticated equipment or alter the honey through heating or filtering. After they pack honey into containers, it makes its way across the channel to Tomoko’s hands.

Tomoko’s dedication to her honey booth goes beyond business. It’s a labor of love and a legacy she’s passing down to her children. Tomoko told me that when she first started the booth, the idea was to teach her kids important life skills, such as counting inventory, selling, and learning how to interact with others.

At the booth to engage young visitors, Tomoko includes small toys and interactive elements that capture their attention and spark curiosity about bees. These educational materials teach them the significance of bees in our ecosystem and where honey comes from.

Kai and I have been fortunate enough to step into her shoes on several occasions, handling the booth and experiencing first hand all of the hard work that goes into it. Since beginning this journey, I have gained a newfound appreciation for the effort and care that goes into every jar of honey. It’s not just about selling a product, it is about honoring nature, preserving tradition, and supporting locals.

The next time you find yourself walking through your local farmers market, take a moment to consider: who is making these products, where do they come from, and what do they represent? You may find yourself enjoying a new recipe, meeting a new friend, or even stepping into the world behind the booth, just as I have.

Learn more about Big Island Bees at: https://bigislandbees.com/

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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)