Creating a buzz
Nov./Dec. 2015 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Christine Souza
Photos by Richard Green
Teen makes helping bees his business
More online: Jake's "Top 10" bee facts
Monterey County beekeeper Jake Reisdorf shows off a frame of honeybees from a colony kept in his backyard.
Just as honeybees are on a mission flitting from flower to flower to gather pollen and nectar, so is beekeeper Jake Reisdorf as he bounces from backyards to farmers markets selling his honey. The 13-year-old Carmel beekeeper has become as busy as a—well, you know. And he's spreading the news about beekeeping and promoting research in person and on YouTube.
"Beekeeping is cool, like a sport or something where your adrenaline is pumping," he said. "What are the bees going to be like today? You never really know, and it adds to the whole beekeeping experience."
The energetic teen started Carmel Honey Co. with his family when he was 10 years old, and both his business and passion for inspiring others about honeybees have grown. Jake now keeps bees in his own and neighbors' yards, sells at local farmers markets and—because he realizes there is much more at stake than collecting and selling honey—speaks to students and others about the importance of bees.
"With beekeeping, you are helping the environment and it is really fun and interesting," he said. "I'm all about the education and practicing beekeeping and doing honey. The message that I want everyone to know is: If the bees go, we go, so help save the bees."
Honeybees are among the most efficient pollinators in the world, and approximately one-third of all the food Americans eat is directly or indirectly derived from honeybee pollination, according to the American Beekeeping Federation.
But honeybees—and their ability to pollinate—are threatened by a lack of good nutrition or forage, pests and diseases and a variety of other impacts. Federal agencies are leading efforts to plant more forage for honeybees across the U.S. and researchers have embarked on additional activities to examine how to improve the the health of honeybees and other pollinators.
Beekeepers such as Jake are pivotal in supporting these endeavors.
The Carmel seventh-grader downplays his personal contribution: "I'm just an average 13-year-old who likes honeybees." Yet he cares for up to 20 beehives in a neighborhood rich with bee-friendly varieties of flowers such as bottlebrush, rosemary and lavender, and flowering trees including oak, eucalyptus and citrus.
"Especially with the drought going on, there is not a lot of forage for the bees, so having these flowers provides food," he said. "Bees turn the forage into honey and pollen and food for themselves."
Jake unpacks a new observation hive that he uses in educational presentations.
How it bee-gan
Jake became captivated with honeybees after seeing them "dance" inside a display hive at the Monterey County Fair and then attending a few beekeeping classes. Owning his own hives grew out of that experience and in the wake of a school assignment on careers.
"I was assigned to be a website designer," he said. "I designed a website about honeybees because I was really interested in honeybees."
He took it a step further by developing a website for a beekeeping business. After acing the assignment, the then-fifth-grader met a local beekeeping club member, who offered him some bees.
"I said, 'Yeah, we'll take some bees because if you want to be a beekeeper, you've gotta have bees,'" he explained with a grin.
Jake's parents and his younger sister, Brooke, were onboard as well. Mom Becky Reisdorf, who is self-employed, and dad Jeff, a general contractor, agreed that managing their own hives as a family would be part of the adventure.
"It's been a lot of work, a lot of unknowns," Becky Reisdorf said. "It is just a fascinating experience to see bees working. It's actually really fun."
Jake says tending to the honeybees takes about half of his time, with the remainder divided among schoolwork, friends, family and chores. He also leads honey tastings at culinary events, removes swarms of bees at residences and speaks to community groups. His presentations now include an observation hive, which Jake purchased with a grant from the Monterey County Farm Bureau.
"There's never a dull moment," he said. "Usually on the weekends, we need to check on the bees and maybe move them into the next box or maybe a bigger box. I wear the (bee) suit and the whole nine yards. Everyone in the family has a bee suit."
Jake provides samples of honey produced from his bees to customers at the farmers market in downtown Carmel.
Passion and purpose
Last summer, the Reisdorfs sold their honey at area markets including the farmers market in downtown Carmel. Revenue earned from selling honey and contracting bees with neighbors is put back into the business, Jake said, adding that it is also used for new-product development.
"People have requested soaps and lotions, so we are going to try and expand our product line a little bit," he continued. "After I stop going on a roll with all of my new ideas and new products, we put the money back into the business. I'm hoping to earn a scholarship for college."
Jake and his family travel around the state meeting with beekeepers, apiary experts and others to exchange information. He spreads his infectious excitement about bees to anyone who will listen—including Amina Harris, director of the University of California, Davis, Honey and Pollination Center.
"(The Reisdorfs) were an hour in my office tasting honey and talking, asking me questions," Harris said. "Then we went to the bee lab, where I set up a meeting with the apiculturist, and they took a tour of the observation hive and the garden and it just went from there. This kid will make it no matter what. I think we are just going to watch him go."
Harris later invited Jake to speak to several hundred people at a university bee symposium. There, he presented the center with a $500 donation.
"He came bounding up to the stage and presented the donation; now everyone else wants to do that too. It's a 13-year-old kid who has this vision," Harris said. "He just exudes energy and he has a really supportive family."
Like most teens, Jake spends time with friends and plays video games. He also enjoys sports such as soccer and tennis. He likes school, especially history and computer science, and considers himself a foodie. Above all, he said, "I love spending time with my family."
Looking ahead, Jake said he sees himself expanding his bee business further by adding more hives.
"I would like to try pollination beekeeping. I'd like to get up there with the bigger guys," he said.
One of those "bigger guys" is Los Angeles County beekeeper Bill Lewis. The past president of the California State Beekeepers Association met Jake at the group's annual conference, and invited the teen and his family to tend hives with him for a day during last winter's almond bloom.
"I am so impressed by Jake's enthusiasm, which seems to have exploded and enveloped his whole family," Lewis said. "Jake has the potential to become a new-generation beekeeper who will move the beekeeping industry forward."
Bee bomb squad
Teen beekeeper Jake Reisdorf is fascinated by many facts about bees, including their ability to sniff out bombs.
"Bees have a keen sense of smell," he said. "They basically have noses, but on their feet and on their antennae. Their sense of smell is 10 times better than us and 10 times better than dogs."
Jake said honeybees are trained by allowing the bees to smell the bomb materials and then giving them sugar water.
"They smell the bomb powder, then they are associating it with the nectar," Jake said. "They can put a suspicious package and the bees in a contained room and the bees will swarm around it. Bees are just very cool."