As a boy, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul didn’t get his honey from a store. His grandfather tracked feral bees to hollowed-out trees to reap the honey.
“He was a true outdoorsman,” the mayor said.
By the time Paul was 12, he said his father invested in bees to provide honey for the family.
“My dad bought five beehives from a beekeeper and it was my responsibility to maintain and check on the hives,” Paul said.
Much has changed since Paul was a boy, and some of those changes renewed Paul’s interest in his childhood chore.
“Honey bees have come under more threats,” he said, explaining that Colony Collapse Disorder and diseases have devastated the bee population. “So, I’ve taken a greater interest in [beekeeping].”
About five or six years ago, Paul bought a colony or two for his Alabama cabin. All of his bees survived the winter this year for the first time. So he decided to install a new colony in Sandy Springs’ Lost Corner Park.
“A great opportunity exists in urban beekeeping,” he said.
Paul put the honey-makers in a fenced-off area of the city park in May. He said bees’ ability to pollinate fruits and vegetables directly affects Sandy Springs residents’ quality of life.
“The addition of the hives to Lost Corner is a win-win all around. The bees get a cozy place to stay, the environment benefits from the pollination and our human residents are able to observe the marvelous world of bees,” he said.
The president of the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, Cindy Hodges of Dunwoody, agrees that bees are crucial.
“The importance here is that the bees are like the ‘canary in the coal mine,’” she said. “If they have issues, then it won’t be long before we do, too.”
Educating people about bees is at the heart of the mayor’s initiative and the city will plan educational programs in the future.
“First it’s about establishing the colony, then, when it’s strong enough, we’ll offer formalized classes of maybe two or three people at a time and show them the basics,” Paul said.
While not expected to produce large quantities of honey, Paul said his newest residents likely will provide “sweet reward” in time for next year’s harvest.
But “nobody’s trying to sell honey commercially,” Paul said.
Bees act as a group, a super organism, and they only have two goals in life, Hodges said. One is to get enough nectar and pollen—enough food—to get them through the winter and the second is to reproduce.
“Honey bees are not dangerous at all unless you invade their hive,” Paul said. He added that he can go an entire year dealing with 200,000 honey bees, and not get stung.
Information on classes for educating “junior beekeepers” and adults can be found at metroatlantabeekeepers.org.