I spent a day with bee advocate/master bee keeper Damian Magista of Bee Local. He runs a Portland-based honey business that sells local, neighborhood honey. He keeps 30+ bee hives around the central Portland area and each has its own unique flavor/color derived from the surrounding region—1.2 miles from the hive to be exact. I asked Damian some very basic questions like, why do bees make honey? In which he answers in detail. The following is what I can recall from our numerous conversations.
I arrive at his studio at 10 a.m., feet sticking to parts of the floor walking up to his office. He chats to me while his eyes are glued on his monitor typing away. “This is the boring stuff…” A customer from a local coffee/wine bar stops in. Damian greets him and carefully pours him a large jar of honey for their new bestselling coffee with honey drink.
“What got you into this Damian… was it the honey??” asks the patron.
“Nope. It was just for the bees…” Damian says.
Damian was experimenting with three kinds of honey mead. Bee Local doesn’t sell the mead but sells the mead making kits. Damian told me it’s realllly easy with three ingredients: honey, water and yeast. Set it and forget it for like 8 months till it gets clear. And just like the honey, the mead has varying shades of colors and flavor profiles due to what the bees have foraged for and ingested.
Damian’s 1969 VW Transporter is parked out front of his work space filled with bee suits and other materials.
A sticker adorns the back of the bus.
On the drive to one of his downtown hives, I had to ask him about bee deaths due to colony collapse disorder. He explained it’s largely due to large-scale bee farming using pesticides and how that’s affecting a bee’s natural immune system. Bee Local has never had one instance of this due to smaller, healthier hives without the need for chemicals and pesticides.
Damian can be found on rooftops checking on his “ladies”. I assumed it was males all working for the queen bee. Nope, Damian corrected me.
This is a Bee Hive Smoker. Bees assume that the smoke means there is a fire nearby. When the bees sense a fire, they start gorging on honey because they think they’ll have to leave their home and find a new place to live. Similar to humans after eating a large turkey dinner, bees become calm and lethargic.
Why do bees make honey? Because it’s their food. They are actually storing food to eat during the winter months. If you harvest too much honey, they will starve. You can assist them by adding some sugar to the hive.
This bee is releasing pheromones into the air so bees can find their way back to the hive.
Nate Tilden, local restaurateur of Olympic Provisions and Clyde Common fame, supports Bee Local by letting him use his rooftop in exchange for some honey for various drinks and cheese plates. This is shot in his latest hot spot called The Richmond Bar.
After a long day of checking on hives, Damian drives me back to my car. I cannot help but get a sense of altruistic pride in Damian’s work. Yes, he’s very close to making a profit, but, more importantly, his hives around Portland are helping gardens thrive. More bees, better plants, better crops and healthier humans. Start a bee hive in your neighborhood and within a mile radius all plant life will thank you. Damian is the real deal. He’s got a little edge on him as you see him get fired up talking about his bee passion. I guess one way I judge people’s commitment is by tattoos and Damian’s got a bee on his arm and a huge beekeepers harvesting tool on his forearm.