One million bees live comfortably on the fifth floor of the Boston Seaport Hotel. Their stay is forever free of charge – as long as they produce honey.
To many of us, the idea of hives around the city is strange. But urban beekeeping is a growing trend, and it’s making plenty of local honey while helping boost the bee population.
The hardworking animals at the Seaport Hotel produce an average of 1,000 pounds of the sweet nectar every year. And Edwin Medrano, the man behind it all, let me have an exclusive look at his operation.
I met Edwin recently at a fundraising event for World Education, Inc. – a Boston nonprofit with training programs in the U.S. and abroad. World Ed was honoring the Seaport Hotel for its commitment to education (they provide English language classes to their staff) and invited one of their students to speak at the event. This happened to be one of Edwin’s employees, and Edwin was there to show his support. I told him I was interested in his bees.
Edwin’s workshop is in the bowels of the hotel building, right inside the machine room on the fifth floor. To get there you have to walk through a nondescript door in a hallway, step onto a metal platform, and use a yellow ladder to descend onto the floor of a room full of pipes, air filtering systems, and other machines that hum constantly.
There, you’ll find a well-lit work bench against a wall lined by photographs of all things bees: hives, combs, larvae, honey, and flowers. Displayed on a shelf above the bench, is a row of award winning jars of honey, labeled with ribbons and rosettes. In the back of the room there’s another door, which opens onto the outside. There, nested between walls and pots and planters, are several hives. The vents from the room blow a warm breeze on them.
Back inside, we sit down, and I watch Edwin as he bottles some of his product while he tells me about the history and the details of this effort.
As a part of the hotel’s sustainability program – a practice to reduce carbon footprint by sourcing food and products locally, recycling trash, and encouraging employees and guests to ride bicycles, the company wanted to do something about Colony Collapse Disorder – the mysterious but well-documented decline of the the bee population across the United States in the mid-2000’s.
When Edwin heard that his employer wanted to start a beekeeping program, he stepped forward and said, “Don’t hire a consultant. I’ll do it.” But he didn’t know the first thing about bees.
Edwin came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 1980 and has always worked in the hospitality industry – cook, purchasing agent, janitor – not beekeeper. So he read a couple of books, took classes, and joined the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association. In 2011, the hotel made an initial investment of $1,500 to purchase equipment and some Buckfast bees from Texas. Under Edwin’s watch, the beekeeping operation is now netting $5,000 a year.
The profit isn’t impressive. But the fact the program exists at all is.
“What do you do with all this honey?” I ask.
“Many things,” says Edwin. “But popcorn with bee pollen is great.”
Other things include serving “Seaport Honey” at the hotel’s restaurants, selling it at the gift shop, making candles – the list goes on. They have even experimented with making honey beer.
But Edwin’s full-time job is to lead a team of 38 janitors and other support staff. The bees are a side gig, and he puts in 50 to 60 hours a week to keep it all going.
“In this company, we promote empowerment. We teach staff to own their work. My job is to give my team moral support and guidance, not to get in their way.”
“Do you need help?” I ask him, wondering perhaps if I can become a beekeeper.
He warns me that getting stung is a common occurrence. And being the conscious company that it is, the Seaport Hotel won’t expand the beekeeping program.
“We don’t want to be a nuisance to our neighbors, you know. Bees are not like cats and dogs.”
I finished licking my fingers, shook his hand, and took a large jar of honey home.
Interested in beekeeping? Check out these resources:
Best Bees: a full-service beekeeping operation that delivers, installs, and manages beehives for residences and businesses. Profits fund research to improve bee health.
Mass Beekeepers Association: an organization uniting beekeepers through education, advocacy, and sponsorship, facilitating the sharing of information, events, and resources in Massachusetts and beyond.
POPCORN WITH SEAPORT HONEY AND BEE POLLEN
- 1/2 cup popcorn (unpopped)
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon Seaport bee pollen
- 1 tablespoon Seaport honey
- 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
- 2 teaspoons sugar (to taste)
- Heat oil over medium high heat in a large heavy duty saucepan.
- Place 3 kernels of popcorn in saucepan and cover. When they pop, you’ll know the oil is hot enough.
- Pour remaining popcorn kernels into saucepan and shake continuously until popping basically stops, leaving lid open enough to release steam.
- Remove from heat.
- Drizzle the honey over the popcorn and sprinkle the bee pollen over popcorn and stir.
- Add salt and sugar to taste and stir to ensure that bee pollen, salt, and sugar are distributed evenly.
BLUEBERRY, BANANA, AND SEAPORT HONEY SMOOTHIE
- 1 fresh banana peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 6 ounces nonfat plain yogurt
- 3/4 cup skim milk
- 1 teaspoon Seaport honey
- 1/2 cup ice cubes (optional)
- Combine the banana, blueberries, milk, honey, and ice in a blender and purée until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.