“Honey is a great incentive,” says Christine Webster, founder of The People’s Bees, which aims to connect people with bees and the natural world through apiculture (beekeeping), education and advocacy. It’s a sweet reason to ask simple questions such as where honey comes from and how it's made. "[Honey] opens a door to a whole world," she says.
But honey is just the beginning.
The People’s Bees is a small business that provides beekeeping lessons and services, and also partners with local businesses, organizations and projects to educate and promote bee conservation efforts. “I want to make this knowledge about bees and our ecosystems easy and enjoyable,” Webster says.
Webster moved to Denver in 2016 in search of a more grounded lifestyle after a decade of working in visual design in Chicago’s advertising industry. She was tired of the fifty- to ninety-hour work weeks and the seemingly endless streets of concrete. Denver provided a change of pace, professionally and personally. But beekeeping wasn’t part of the initial plan. At first it was just a curiosity.
She noticed a number of apiaries in her Park Hill neighborhood and thought that learning about bees could complement her growing passion for gardening. But the more Webster learned, the more questions she had. “It’s such an engaging hobby or craft," she says. "There’s so much to learn. There’s an art to it, but there’s also a science."
Webster immersed herself in study, through written resources and a mentorship with a neighbor. She describes beekeeping as a rabbit hole that expanded her understanding of interconnected links in the environment. “Beekeeping constantly challenges me, and I don’t see an end in sight,” she says.
Her growing enthusiasm was contagious. As friends and neighbors began to ask questions, she realized her knowledge was a resource she could share. “Accessibility is so important to me, and the natural world is quite intimidating to a lot of people,” she explains. "Many people know that bees are important and that they’re endangered, but they often don’t know why and lack understanding about the simple things they can do as individuals to help."
The easiest way that Webster has found to explain the big picture is to start with honey and the honey bee, which was imported to North America when colonizers arrived in the 1600s. The bees were brought to help pollinate crops and to provide honey and wax, as they had done in Europe for millennia.
Today, honey bees are shipped around the country to pollinate crops such as avocados, apples, almonds, beans and plants used to feed livestock. "One out of every three bites of food in the United States depends on honey bees and other pollinators," reads the website for the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Honey bees are just one of at least 20,000 different species of bees around the world, and Colorado alone has 946 native bee species, many of them solitary. But disease, parasites and pesticide exposure are linked to their decline. Further, continued human population growth has led to decreased habitat and fewer food sources. Webster says that because humans have led to bee endangerment, they can also be part of the solution.
She advises individuals to plant native flowers, cut back on fertilizer and rethink their green lawns. “Let things grow a little wild,” she says. “Instead of turf grass, maybe grow your own herbs. What is so powerful, not just with beekeeping, but also with gardening, is connecting with a world within our world. It’s incredibly humbling."
Webster hopes she can help people find joy in discovering connections in the natural world. “Once we lower our walls, break down some barriers to the natural world," she says, "we get deeper and deeper into these relationships [between organisms]. That’s what hooked me so much."
So how can you get involved with the People’s Bees?
There are a number of educational opportunities available, among them private or group beekeeping lessons at the People's Bees apiary at RoSella Family Farm in Lakewood, and public events such as an hour-long interactive campfire talk at Cherry Creek State Park called "The Buzz About Bees," which takes place the last Friday of every month (the next event is at 7 p.m. Friday, July 30).
Companies can also get involved in corporate hive hosting or sponsorship, through which Webster maintains hives on business premises and creates supplemental educational programming for employees. Businesses can also sponsor a hive at the People’s Bees apiary.
Webster regularly shares bee-related facts on Instagram and has a list of additional resources on the People's Bees website. The People's Bees is also the official beekeeper of Breckenridge Brewery, a partnership that launched on July 15. Now you can visit the bees at Breckenridge Brewery's Littleton campus at 2920 Brewery Lane, and soon you'll be able to take beekeeping lessons on site.
For a taste of the sweet goods, head to Table Public House, 2190 South Platte River Drive, which sells jars of People's Bees honey. After harvesting at the end of summer, more honey will be available on the People's Bees website.
Even if you don't plan on becoming a home beekeeper, next time you reach for a jar of honey, consider the buzz of interconnected activity that goes into creating it — and plant a few extra herbs and flowers to help boost our local bees.
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