About Us

Balyolu is a holistic rural incubator for artisanal product entrepreneurs, funded by tasting trekking tours & socially conscious consumers.

We are the world’s first honey-tasting and traditional foods trekking program, connecting travelers to rural producers and incubating environmental village businesses. We aim to increase transparency and the ethical production of traditional products which have corrupt marketing and production reputations (such as honey, oil, tea, coffee, nuts, cosmetics) while benefiting rural communities. We use proceeds from trekking tasting tours and 20% of product sales to fund our company, providing grants and incubation services for women and their families to start village businesses that are based on traditional environmental products, small- scale tourism, and niche food experiences. Specifically, we have begun our work with women beekeepers in Turkey’s Northeast, starting a honey-tasting tourism program that supports the heritage and diversity of traditional foods in the face of honey corruption and massive internal migration.

Our primary activities are:

1) Training and supporting rural women and their communities to become world- class culinary artisans and business leaders in fields that move away from harmful agricultural practices and towards traditional environmental products in need of more transparency. We both provide local ethical jobs as well as preserve the environment, working to revive threatened species such as the Caucasian bee and increase regional biodiversity.

2) We collaborate with local communities to research historical food practices, building national narratives around lost culinary traditions.

3) We use travel and tasting experiences to cultivate culinary and culturally aware ambassadors who will help overhaul the global food system – cross-pollinating knowledge about the regional environment, culture, and people.

4) We market, distribute, and partner our products/experiences with leading hotels and urban consumer bases.



Turkey and the South Caucasus are a remarkable region of contradictions. On one hand, it is a modern route for high flowing trade and the movement of people, products, and ideas. There are endless late-night infomercials about cheap low-quality honey, and there are creeping plans for massive regional development in the way of dams, roads, railways, and opened borders.

Then there is the Northeastern Turkey that we know – a region that feels forgotten, with ancient traditions living untouched in villages for over a 1,000 years, where old silk road routes leading to crumbling fortresses are trodden only by foot and cattle, where hundreds and hundreds of bee-boxes line every hillside and valley making for some of the most exquisite honey in the world.

As one of the largest honey-producing countries on the planet with the highest concentration of bee-boxes per square km, Balyolu saw a unique opportunity to build the world’s first honey tasting trekking route that would support women entrepreneurs and their families. In light of worldwide honey corruption, here was our chance to empower and reward the small local producers who maintained traditional, natural, and authentic methods of honey production. We wanted to protect the environment. We wanted to protect the village food traditions. And we wanted to provide compelling income opportunities for people living in very remote and rural parts of Turkey and the world. So we started Balyolu in 2012, and saw immediate interest and captivation by some of the most respected institutions in the field. National Geographic awarded founder Cat Jaffee a National Geographic Young Explorer’s award. Over 273 global backers supported Balyolu through a successful 30-day Kickstarter campaign. And local communities rose to the challenge, excited and interested in working on this idea.

Now we are roaring into 2013, having increased our trips by 600%, and pushing to increase our capacity and team strength for the incredible year ahead. Our dreams are big, tackling food transparency and corruption and driving the change right from the most rural and remote parts of the world.


Our Team

Cat 450


Cat is a Colorado native, a Turkish Fulbright Scholar, a National Geographic Young Explorer, and a global entrepreneur. Cat has worked at Ashoka, the Asian Rural Institute, and the Aspen Institute in Colorado, Washington D.C, Turkey, Japan, and Egypt. Since she was 20, she has researched Silk road routes from India to Turkey, studying how to foster peaceful trade, travel, and innovation through historical walking routes. In 2011, Cat moved back to Northeastern Turkey to launch Balyolu and learn her first words in Georgian – გამარჯობა – gamarjoba!

E-mail:  [email protected]
Cat’s National Geographic Explorers Bio Page

Claire 450


Claire is a “do-er” since childhood and has long been fascinated by the power of artistic creativity to ignite social good and inspire change. She studied Fine Art and International Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, studied and documented development politics at a women’s farming cooperative while living in Mali, worked in program management and marketing for Ashoka, and founded The Wise Routes Project to document how Americans define “success” through design, writing, photography, and videography while on a 2,000 mile bicycle tour of the Pacific Coast. In addition to her design and video work, Claire has lead creative workshops for youth in Harlem, Washington DC, and St. Louis.

E-mail: [email protected]
Claire’s Blog: One Sticky Hive

Adriana 450


Adriana was born in Italy, where she lives with her family. A lover of foreign languages, she has travelled widely. She works as a translator and interpreter and teaches foreign languages at home. She believes in the importance of communication as a basis for peace and development. She is working with Balyolu, helping with site management and organization, as well as program assistance.

E-mail:  [email protected]


Lisa  was born in Germany but has been living in Turkey now for the last 3 years. In the summer of 2010 after graduating in Social Anthropology from Cambridge University, with a friend she followed the steps of Patrick Lee Fermor, hitchhiked and walked from Germany all the way to Istanbul with only a tiny backpack. She has since received a Masters at Sabanci University and worked as a project manager for the Istanbul Policy Center. In order to reconnect with her beekeeper grandfather’s passion, she intends to bring volunteers to the remote villages of Kars and connect them with local women beekeepers.

E-mail: [email protected]


Kseniya was born in Moldova, grew up in San Francisco, studied abroad in Spain, got her college degree in Boston, and is now adding Kars to her list of homes. She has always had a passion for travel, cross-cultural exchange and social justice, and believes in doing work that changes the world for the better, whether on the front lines as a special education teacher, behind the scenes at a social work company, or as a volunteer. She is excited to work with Balyolu and explore Turkey through her other passions – hiking, writing, and photography

E-mail:  [email protected]

Our Volunteers


Deanna Parrish is a Miami native who has spent the last five years hopping between St. Louis, Washington DC and New York. She studied International Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, documented the stories of feminist activists during Morocco’s Arab Spring, and has worked in client relations with Ashoka and the Clinton Global Initiative. With a background spanning social entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility and communications, she is on a journey to create platforms for cross-sectoral dialogue that will push the world towards progressive change.

E-mail: [email protected]


Eva was born in Bulgaria and raised in Boston, but her favorite part of the world is the Caucasus. Last year she lived in Georgia and is still not sure whether it was a dream or not. Having spent the last 20 summers in her grandparents’ village in Bulgaria, Eva feels happiest when she knows exactly where her food is coming from. She is excited to explore life in Northeastern Turkey with Balyolu and contribute to its mission of preserving small-scale culinary traditions. Next year she will be getting her master’s in elementary education.


Lauren was born and raised in snowy Minnesota. She was first introduced to the Caucasus in 2011, and things haven’t been the same for her since. She spent one year teaching English in Georgia, using vacation days to explore neighboring northeastern Turkey. Lauren believes that slow travel can be transformative for both the traveler and the host. She is delighted to see Balyolu grow and offer an intimate travel experience. Next year she will be starting law school in Minnesota.


Lucienne, a Boulder Colorado native is a recent graduate of the George Washington University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.  She is currently a resident of Washington DC working as an office and sales assistant for Divine Chocolate, a socially responsible chocolate company which fuels her passion for humanitarian work.  She is interested in animal care, health, fitness, food, travel and baking!


George is from London and has been living in Istanbul for the past six months, interning at Istanbul Policy Center and learning Turkish. He is now exploring Eastern Anatolia thanks to Balyolu. He holds a Masters degree in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics.


Alex is a Town Planner from London. He worked for a prominent Planning consultancy in central London before deciding to leave the city and embark on a trans-continental bicycle ride from Istanbul to New Zealand. He took a break from cycling in Kars to volunteer with Balyolu and explore remote eastern Anatolia in more depth.




Deniz was born in Frankfurt, Germany and has lived in Istanbul most of her life. After getting her undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University, Deniz worked at Ernst and Young as a financial auditor and team leader, all the while fostering professional relations with upper management of corporate and non-profits in Turkey. Deniz has worked with several non-profits including Turkiye Eğitim Gönulluleri, Toplum Gönulluleri and World Wildlife Fund in Istanbul. Deniz is currently earning her MBA at Koç University and is focusing her studies on marketing, entrepreneurship as well as social responsibility and impact analysis. She is also a passionate PADI Open Water Advanced Scuba Diver and has explored the underwater world in Turkey, Egypt, Hawaii and the Indian Ocean.

E-mail: [email protected]








Irfan Kandemir, Biology Professor, Ankara University

Tara Hopkins, Founder of Cop(m)adam

Cagan Sekercioglu, Founder of KuzeyDoga


Melis Okan, Turkish translator




Balyolu is HIRING! We are looking for two new members to join our team.

Are you a tour-guide passionate about rural traditions, wild-life, animals, and connecting people through food and experiences?

Are you an active walker/hiker/trekker, with a deep love for Northeastern Turkey, the Caucasus, and the mountains?

Are you bilingual in Turkish and English with a current KoKart certification?

We are looking to hire two professional guides to work with us this summer! We offer competitive salaries, housing in Kars Turkey, food, and experiences you will remember a life-time. Staff get two days off a week as well as a relatively flexible work schedule, and insurance while working with us in the field.

We are looking for staff to start with us in May and work with us until October.

If you are interested, please send an email to [email protected] including your resume and a one page letter about why you would like to work for Balyolu.






Balyolu offers two incredible volunteer opportunities.

THE BALYOLU VILLAGE FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM: The first is the Balyolu Village Fellowship program, a competitive one-month village-stay with us where you will work with local villagers to help them learn English, and develop new business ideas, come up with marketing and branding concepts, and mutually share cultures and traditions with our communities. There is no typical day nor typical work assignment. You will be placed in a village with one other English speaker and will spend the weeks in the villages, and the weekends relaxing (or skiing!) in Kars. We are looking for incredibly independent, self-driven, entrepreneurial volunteers who are deeply interested in connecting with communities on a local level.

These volunteer opportunities are unpaid, however housing and food costs will be covered as part of our program. Volunteers will be in charge of purchasing their own health insurance, travel expenses, clothes, and anything else you require. Village life is simple and lacking in luxury, so volunteers should be prepared for a very authentic experience in a cold and mountainous part of Turkey.

The volunteer placements must last between 3-4 weeks and take place between March 10 – May 10.
Interested candidates can apply by sending an email to Cat Jaffee – [email protected] with your CV and a one page letter on why you would like to volunteer with the Balyolu Village Fellowship program. Please also include an experiences similar you have had in the past.

REMOTE VOLUNTEERING: Balyolu is also always looking for volunteers in translations, media and marketing, grant writing, design, and more. If you have 5 hours a week that you would like to contribute towards our company, we are always very grateful for additional help and getting everything off the ground.

If interested, please send an email with your CV and a short paragraph about your professional strengths and what you can offer to the program to [email protected]

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