New This Month

noah wilson rich insects bees thriving


  • By Melissa Ozawa
  • Photos by Christina Holmes

Bees play a much larger role in our lives than many people realize. From pollinating the produce we eat to providing key ingredients for medicine, these hard workers are crucial but struggling to survive: In recent years, we’ve lost nearly half of our honeybee colonies. Fortunately, one man is doing everything he can to save them. Read on for his call to action -- and get our sweet (and savory) ways to celebrate honey.

The next time you bite into an apple or snack on some almonds, thank a bee. Not only are the winged creatures essential pollinators of fruits and vegetables, but they also provide wax for cosmetics, preservatives, and pharmaceuticals. Sadly, they’re also under serious threat around the world. In 2015, beekeepers in the U.S. lost a staggering 44 percent of their colonies due to agricultural chemicals, habitat loss, and disease from fungal, bacterial, and viral infections.

“It’s unacceptable,” says Noah Wilson-Rich, the founder and chief scientific officer of Best Bees, a beekeeping company in Boston, and the Bee Sanctuary, its sister nonprofit organization dedicated to research and advocacy. He became primarily interested in the western honeybee (Apis mellifera) as a premed student at Northeastern University, and switched gears to earn a Ph.D. in biology on bee immunology at Tufts University. His life’s work is to save them.

Noah says...

These little insects are the cornerstone of our entire food system.

Rather than studying why they are dying, Wilson-Rich and his team focus on where these bees are doing well and what they can do to keep them healthy. They’ve been surprised to discover that hives are more productive in cities than in the country, and theorize that the diversity of blooms in community gardens, urban parks, and even weed-filled empty lots gives bees the nutrition they need. The logical next step? Placing hives on city rooftops.

To facilitate that, he works with governments to alter laws to allow urban beekeeping, as well as change public perception. “Food availability and cost can all be tied to the hive,” he says, adding that honeybees are not dangerous, nor do they transmit disease like mosquitoes. “They die when they sting, so they aren’t motivated to do so,” he explains.

Best Bees now employs more than 60 keepers across the country and has outposts in 15 states, with hives on top of the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel in Boston, the Exchange Building in Seattle, and the Wells Fargo Center in Denver. Wilson-Rich practices organic beekeeping -- he doesn’t use chemicals or regularly give supplemental sugar to the bees in winter. The company is full-service: A trained beekeeper delivers a hive, installs the bee colony, makes routine house calls, and even harvests honey for the client. The keeper then records data, like population counts and honey yield, on an app for scientists at its lab to analyze. Each beehive produces an average of 10 pounds of honey a year for each client.

“It comes full circle,” says Wilson-Rich, who has applied for a patent for “smart hives,” equipped with sensors that will record temperature and humidity and capture video, allowing for remote beekeeping and proactive troubleshooting. Additionally, through its sponsor-a-beehive program, anyone can help fund a beehive at a library, school, or community garden. Thanks to this fearless advocate, being part of the solution has never tasted so sweet.

In addition to Langstroth hives (classic boxes dating back to the 1850s) made by hand from American wood, Best Bees has decorated ones and offers an online service for designing your own. 

Artist and fellow beekeeper Paige Mulhern, who heads the custom-hive shop, paints a custom beehive in Best Bees' Boston design studio. To encourage more young people, especially women, who have been underrepresented in the field, Wilson-Rich is promoting the hashtag #NextGenBeekeepers.

Sweet (and Savory!) Recipes Starring Honey

We love cooking with this sweet ingredient every which way. Start with our Honey Flan with Citrus and Kiwifruit, then try the rest of our delicious dishes featuring honey.