Growing Number of Backyard Beekeepers on Mission to Save Dying Breed

“Bees help our environment,” Dan Lewis said. “They help the diversity of our flora. They help our plants. They help our food. They provide honey.”

Some call them nuisances. Problematic pests with a proclivity to inflict pain.

They are black, and yellow, and buzz to a tune that most of us relentlessly swat and run from.

Dan Lewis is among the few who do not ascribe to that thinking. In fact, he welcomes that buzz, as it means one thing.

“Honey,” he says, as he looks into a box swarming with thousands of bees outside his Fort Lauderdale home. “I see them working hard to make me honey. That’s what I see.”

Most would refer to Lewis as a beekeeper, as the 50’s-something author, speaker, and county politician has several of these boxes in his side yard. But, Lewis does not ascribe to that name either.

He prefers thief.

“I just go in from time to time and make sure they’re happy. Happy bees make happy honey. Then I sneak in, steal their honey, and tell them to start over,” he said laughing.

You would never know Lewis does this, either. He lives in the Victoria Park neighborhood of Ft. Lauderdale that sits only a mile north of Las Olas Boulevard. Expensive cars sit in his neighbors’ driveways and palm trees adorn a canopy that covers the length of his street.

He estimates three to five other beekeepers live within three blocks of his home.

“Bees help our environment,” he said. “They help the diversity of our flora. They help our plants. They help our food. They provide honey.”

Lewis’ stress on the importance of the honey bee is not over-exaggerated, neither is his estimation of its interest among his neighbors.

According to state numbers, Florida has more than 4,400 registered beekeepers, a number that has ballooned fivefold over the last five years.

“Once you start breathing into it and start watching [bees] it’s ridiculous,” said Teresa Coldwell of her passion.

Coldwell manages bee hives around Broward County with her husband, John. Their interest sparked out of a desire to pollinate plants in their garden. Now, they own several hives and also tend to public hives around Broward.

“There are more and more people getting interested saying, 'can I do that?'” Teresa said. “[They ask] 'what does it take to be a beekeeper?' And before you know it we’re swapping honey with them.”

“Some people are doing it for the environment, some people want to improve their homestead, and some people just want honey for their biscuit,” added John.

The interest in honeybees comes at a good time. According to a study by the University of Vermont, the population of wild bees in the United States dropped 23-percent between 2008 and 2013.

It’s of grave concern, not only to bee enthusiasts, but agriculturalists. According to the supermarket chain Whole Foods, one in three bites of food comes from plants pollinated by honeybees. Those foods include apples, onions, avocados, lemons, limes, carrots, squash and 15 others named by Whole Foods.

“We’re losing [bees], and we’re losing them at a remarkable rate. And when they’re gone so is most of our food and most of our grocery stores,” Lewis said.

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