The first question everyone asks a beekeeper is, “Do you get stung a lot?”
The answer, Jamie Lozoff OPC ’11 said with a sigh, is “Yeah, you do.” It’s an occupational hazard and usually the beekeeper’s fault for failing to wear a veil or protective gloves. But sometimes, the bees are to blame.
“Some hives have gentle bees,” Lozoff explained by telephone from the village of Gyé-sur-Seine, about 200 kilometers southeast of Paris. “The ones I have, that’s not the case.”
French bees, apparently, have an attitude. The honey bees found in the United States are mostly Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera linguistica), she explained. “They’re very chilled out.” In France, the more aggressive black honey bees predominate (Apis mellifera mellifera) and, with what might be interpreted as Gallic surliness, they are likely to attack anyone who ventures too close. Who knew?
Lozoff knew because she has studied and worked with honey bees since taking a field research class with now-retired PC teacher Nora Comiskey when she was in 11th grade. The class visited a hive on the edge of campus tended by then-kindergarten teacher Joel Eckel and, as Lozoff recalled, “something special happened that day.”
Holding the frames in which the beehives were built, Lozoff said she saw all the stages of life: the queen laying eggs, the larvae being born, the drones bringing back pollen to turn into honey. “It was sort of magic.” She and classmate Maxwell Bolno OPC ’11 started a beekeeping club, which in turn formed her Senior Comprehensive Project.
Bitten by the beekeeping bug—perhaps “stung” is the better way to put it—Lozoff took a gap year after graduation and traveled to the south of France, which solidified two ambitions: that she wanted to pursue beekeeping as a career and that she wanted to do it in France. Matriculating at Bard College, she chose to spend her first semester in Berlin, then transferred to the Sorbonne, where she majored in biology, specializing in the study of honey bees.
She spent five years in Paris and joined L’Abeille de Grand Paris, the Parisian beekeepers’ association, when she saw some of its members tending hives in the Luxembourg Gardens. Working in restaurants to pay her bills, she noticed that many chefs did not know where to get locally sourced honey, so she started working with the hives in the garden of the Palais de Toyko and opened a small apiary about 45 minutes outside of Paris.
Last year, Lozoff formed her own beekeeping business, Faire La Bees, its name a play on the phrase “faire la bise,” the traditional French double-cheek air kiss. (You can follow it on her Instagram page, www.instagram.com/fairelabees/). She also moved to Gyé-sur-Seine, located in the Champagne region, in search of space and forage for her bees that she couldn’t find in Paris. She now manages a restaurant, Le Garde Champêtre, housed in an old train station, and manages hives that serve both to pollinate vegetables for the restaurant’s garden and produce honey for the table.
Honey bee populations have declined around the world, but Lozoff stressed that the threat extends to all types of pollinating insects. “Large-scale agriculture doesn’t leave much room for nature to work in a balanced way,” she said. “It really doesn’t.” Lozoff tries to raise awareness of these problems, and perhaps inspire others like herself, by teaching apiculture classes to school children.
Somewhat like honey bees, honey beekeepers are a social group. Lozoff often invites friends to join her as she works, and enjoys taking novices because it forces her to slow down and explain each step. Last March, she and some Australian beekeeping friends visited Morocco to see one of the oldest apiaries in the world, located in the Atlas Mountains, traveling the so-called “La Route du Miel” or “Honey Highway.”
Closer to home, Lozoff is working with local beekeepers who lack connections in the major French cities and have more than six tons of organically grown honey they don’t know how to sell. “They are good people, great beekeepers, and they refuse to sell to major supermarket chains that are ultimately at the root of the world’s ecological problems,” she wrote in a follow- up email. Lozoff envisions developing a honey collective as a brand for “beekeepers who bee keep with heart!”
“I’m really just moved to exploring the interactions between insects-environment- humans-agriculture,” Lozoff wrote. “Learning about the world through a bee-shaped lens is a beautiful thing!”