Creating a Buzz: Intown residents become foster families to help re-populate honey bees
One hive at a time, Bell Beaker is on a mission to re-populate bees and engage Atlanta residents in the sustainable practice of bee keeping through its Hives for Honey Program. Since bees cover about three miles of land to forage, the program seeks to spread out its participants to nurture a healthy honey bee population.
“I learned that in major urban cities, bees struggle to exist,” said Bell Beaker founder Andrew Lantz. “I had this thought– would people allow me to keep bees on their property so we could bring them back. It turns out – yes – people are very interested.”
For $79.99 a month for three hives or $35 a month for one, Bell Beaker will install and manage established beehives for customers with space on their property that points southeast and receives direct sunlight.
“Bees are kind of like older people – they work really early and go to sleep really early,” Lantz explained. “We like to accommodate to their schedule.” Italian honey bees are “deceptively docile” and exist peacefully alongside people and pets.
After installation, the beekeeping team makes bi-weekly visits to tend the hives. In late November, customers receive all of the honey harvested on their property; between 7-10 gallons after two seasons from three hives.
Lantz’s passion for bees started at a young age.
“I was 14 years old when I started with playing with bees. I fell in love with them as the little alien insects they are. I convinced my parents to let me get bees a couple of years later and I’ve been keeping bees ever since,” Lantz said.
He even named the business after a late Neolithic people, who drank beer and mead (honey wine) from inverted bell beakers, as an homage to his mead-making days.
The fee-based model follows a successful year-long beta program, funded via Kickstarter, in which participants paid no fees but only retained 20 percent of harvested honey. For Lantz, the beta program was an opportunity to gauge interest and nail down logistics.
“We ended up funding 25 locations,” Lantz said. ”I put up 50 posters around Piedmont Park and from that more than 1,100 signed up. It told me there is a huge interest.”
Some beta participants participated for the hyperlocal harvested honey and for their backyards to be part of this ecosystem revival.
“We love honey and eat it almost every single day” said Edgewood residents Casey and Bill from Edgewood. “We also love to just learn about them and watch the process from week to week.”
Some found it an easy way to explore a hobby that requires a lot of attention and practice.
“I have wanted bees for a long time, but the amount of knowledge and equipment required have always been a barrier for me,” said Gregory, also from Edgewood. ”Andrew helped me hurdle that barrier and has encouraged me to be as hands on as I want to be.”
Lantz also introduced beekeeping to Chad Davis, a recent University of Georgia graduate, who now works for Bell Beaker.
“Andrew tended bees without any type of mask, suit or anything. And told me – you’ll be fine. Seeing his fearlessness and how he engaged with the bees inspired me,” Davis said. “The first experience I had was when we picked up about a quarter million bees. I just dove right in.”
Davis and Lantz are scaling up the program, which now has more than 50 locations, including 27 residents under the monthly fee model.
“We’re literally all over Atlanta, from Buckhead to Kirkwood, It’s only going to keep growing.” Lantz said. They are looking to expand into more areas like North Druid Hills, Decatur, East Point and College Park.
“They are the best roommates I’ve ever had!” said Kirkwood residents Kate and Alex. “And it’s great to help the pollinators do their thing. I love to think we are helping the bee population.”
As the number of pollinators increases, we should also see a more plant life that will enable diverse species in our urban ecosystem and ultimately, repeated in other major cities across the U.S.
“The most fulfilling part of all of this is having a true purpose. The more you can teach people sustainable practices the more hope we have for the future. The honey is great too,” Davis said.