Norwalk’s urban beekeeper says honey is in his veins
“I bleed honey. It runs deep in my veins,” Norwalk author and fourth generation beekeeper Andrew Coté states at the beginning of his memoir “Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper.”
Born and bred in Norwalk, Coté said he’s a proud Nutmegger who fell in love with beekeeping as a child when he helped his father, a former Norwalk firefighter, tend to his bees at his childhood home in Norwalk. Decades later Coté is the founder of the New York City Beekeepers Association and the executive director of his family’s nonprofit Bees Without Borders and is known for his urban beekeeping work. The apiarist and self-proclaimed “beek” has traveled the world teaching others about how to run their own apiaries and has found himself rubbing elbows with celebrities on set or at his market stall in New York City’s Union Square Greenmarket, where he sells his honey.
Coté’s book shares the story of his family’s honey soaked roots, the evolution of his beekeeping hobby into a full time profession, his work with Bees Without Borders and the New York City Beekeepers Association while it also provides readers with beekeeping history and little known facts about bees with a peppering of humor.
Readers might be surprised to learn that bees can detect explosives and cancer and that they have been sent into outer space aboard a Space Shuttle.
“People may not be aware that there are honey bees, hundreds of hives on rooftops all over New York City and on rooftops in Reykjavik, Kyoto, Berlin and in many major cities across the world,” he said “I think that would be a bit of a disconnect to their notion of beekeeping being a bucolic, rusticated sort of ambition.”
The urban beekeeper described his book as “a nice blend of honeybee lore, practical beekeeping and honey knowledge and family history,” he said. “It takes the reader to far flung places that they might not otherwise have the chance to visit while the focus is still always on the honey bee and one man’s journey as to how he transversed the world on the four wings of this magical creature.”
The beekeeper noted that he had been journaling about his bee work for a while and started seriously writing his book after he was struck by a bus.
“Once I had that accident, I was a bit hobbled for a while and so I decided to put those notes and thoughts together. Although I really did not do it expeditiously. I didn’t even get the proposal together for six or seven years despite the insistence of my good agent, I was just too busy doing the work of actually beekeeping to sit down and write about it.”
Prior to becoming a fulltime apiarist, Coté worked as an English professor, which he said he was partially drawn to because the long school breaks provided him with more time to travel. He did note that similar to teaching, becoming a beekeeper is not a particularly lucrative profession.
“Whoever said ‘do what you love and the money will follow’ clearly did not get into any kind of agricultural work because that has not been proven true,” he joked. “I found academia to be very fulfilling, but I find beekeeping to be more so. Bees Without Borders allows me to connect travel, education, philanthropy and beekeeping, so I’m still able to teach in some respect.”
When asked if he has a preference between working with his urban bees, nestled on Manhattan’s rooftops, or the bees at his farm, Coté said he doesn’t have one as he doesn’t pay too much attention to his surroundings once he’s working with his bees.
“Once I open that beehive and I’m maintaining that colony, I’m oblivious to anything a meter away from me,” he said. “It’s calming even though it seems to be a box of chaotic behavior with 50,000 stinging, venomous insects flying in all directions. There is an order to that society and working with them focuses me.”
However, Coté admitted that when he does stop to look up from his work, he doesn’t mind enjoying the view. “When I stop to look up from my work, it is nice to have those billion dollar views from landmark iconic Manhattan buildings, but it’s just as nice to be doing it here in Fairfield County and listening to the birds chirp in my familiar hometown environment.”
For those who are buzzing to enter the beekeeper world, Coté advises aspiring apiarists to research and work with a beekeeper before trying it out alone.
“Get your hands sticky in a hive prior to striking out on your own. Join a local bee club, find and work for one entire season with a mentor, take classes, read books, go online and watch videos and really make sure it’s for you,” he said. He also said he thinks Backyard Beekeepers, based in Weston, is one of the best beekeeping clubs in the country.
As for his book, Coté hopes it will entertain readers while giving them a peek into the apiary world. “I hope that readers will take away an appreciation for the alchemy that is the honey bee’s life work. That readers will be tuned into their food supply and our role as caretakers of this planet, but really most of all, I hope to entertain people and for people to laugh and learn not only about the honey bee, but to learn about the world and human interaction and just to enjoy themselves,” he said.