The vibrant life buzzing throughout Bee Tree Meadows makes it hard to believe that the Western honeybee is in grave danger. From 1997-2006 Colony Collapse Disorder has dramatically diminished the number of federal and maintained bee colonies in North America. But at this 100- percent organic bee farm, there is no sign of worker bees abandoning ship; they're every bit as satisfied with the arrangement as their keepers, Todd and Mandalyn Goode.
Todd: I have a medical background and was set to go into veterinary school, but became dissatisfied with the way veterinary medicine was headed in this country, so I backed out. I took a job at Rainbow where I met John Pennington, who runs the largest beekeeping business in Mississippi. I wouldn't even eat honey because I was strictly vegan, but was fascinated by what this 75-year-old man was doing with his business, so I started asking questions. I asked as many as I could. One day he brought me two beehives and told me to take them and put them together. I said, "John, I don't want bees." He said, "You think you don't want bees—but you do." And he couldn't have been more right. We completed our first season in 2006 with three beehives. We've increased tenfold since then.
What's your greatest challenge?
Todd: Not knowing everything that we were getting into. Not listening to advice about growing too large, too fast. It's a lot of hard work. The first year we were doing 70 or more hours a week. You're in the full sun in heavy clothing, working at the hottest time of the year, but I love it! When you find something you love, even if most people think you're crazy, then you should do it.
What do you produce and sell through Bee Tree Meadows?
Mandalyn: The great thing about this business is that there is virtually no waste. We use and can sell everything (bees) make.
Todd: People always (ask), "You make honey?" And I always tell them, "I don't make anything, the bees do all the work." Out of their work, we have by-products. We create beeswax candles, honey, lip balm; and are working on a gardener's hand salve. We also sell propalis, which is the glue-like resin used to seal and protect the brood. It's the strongest natural antibiotic available. It will eventually go into more of the health and beauty products we plan to make.
Where can we buy your products?
Todd: We sell all our products through Rainbow (Whole Foods Co-op) and at the Belhaven Market. We'll be at the market every Saturday through May, and then probably every other weekend for the rest of the season. Our products are very minimally priced, much lower than others on the market, so they're affordable.
What's your opinion on Colony Collapse Disorder? How can consumers help?
Todd: The media have been pretty sensational about it. But what you don't hear is that 95 percent of the loss is coming from one group—the larger (migratory) beekeepers. You can guess it has something to do with how they're beekeeping. It's my opinion that a big cause stems from something no one likes to admit: no wild places, no wild things.
Mandalyn: It's not a small problem. You choose: Wal-Mart or bees?
Todd: With a little thought and willingness, we can solve this. We have to treat the problem differently. Stop using the chemicals and antibiotics. Pay attention to your Farm Bill. Know where your sweetener comes from. Buy local beeswax products and honey made only through sustainable and organic practices.
What's in a Name?
"I will bring you honey from the bee tree in the meadow…" The Goodes took inspiration both from Mandalyn's maiden name, Meadows, and a line from Johnny Cash's "Cause I Love You" to come up with the name of their farm.