Meet the Oviedo man who’s determined to help nature’s unsung heroes thrive.
Jon Adam Gleman’s first memory of bees is getting stung above the eye when he was about six years old.
His dad told him he looked like Muhammad Ali after a fight.
In the ensuing decades, Jon didn’t give bees much thought.
But today, the 41-year-old Oviedo resident is totally enamored by these industrious insects that help sustain much of the world’s food supply.
The founder of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Friends of the Bee can tell you pretty much anything you might want to know about bees. Like the fact that their reputation for hard work is well-deserved. There are even hive guards, bees that prevent coworkers intoxicated by fermented fruit from re-entering the hive until they have sobered up. Think of them as bouncer bees.
When their workday is done, bees like to chill out and relax in the evening, just like us.
And there’s the fact that bees can become junkies, so hooked on nicotine-based pesticides that they’re rendered ineffective in all other aspects of their lives.
Mostly, however, Jon and his organization want to help bees here and across the country recover from overuse of pesticides and the taxing travel that urban sprawl has created in their critical role as pollinators.
Honeybees contribute nearly $20 billion to the value of U.S. crop production, pollinating everything from apples and cherries to mustard and almonds. But bee colonies are disappearing at an alarming rate. One species of bumblebee has vanished from 90 percent of its historic range in the U.S.
While experts disagree about the exact cause, Jon puts much of the blame squarely on pesticides and the practice of forcing bees to crisscross the countryside to do their jobs.
“Are we just trying to make money off them, or are we doing something that is sustainable?” Jon asks.
The goal of Friends of the Bee is to encourage people to adopt bee colonies in their own backyards or places of business. The colonies can be placed anywhere outside – even on rooftops – in dense urban and suburban areas. Research suggests that just a porch, balcony, or window box can make a contribution and help bees properly pollinate a wide swath of land.
Jon’s organization relocates unwanted colonies from residences and businesses at no charge, saving the building’s owners money and preventing extermination of the colony. Friends of the Bee keeps a database of homeowners willing to adopt a colony at a moment’s notice.
A Buzzworthy Sales Pitch
Jon might never have entered the bee business were it not for a salesman at his millworking company who suggested using the equipment on hand to make custom bee hives. At first, Jon was aghast.
“Humoring him, I said, ‘Okay, you’ve got 30 minutes to give me everything you know about beehives,’” Jon recalls. “That turned into an hour and a half, and I was hooked from then.”
Jon’s company, Calico Creek Millworks in Oviedo, now makes several types of beehives on the side, including one with observational windows that allow school children to watch the bees at work. Jon is happy to be spending more time on his nonprofit cause, with the goal of making the world a better place for both bees and people.
“This was an opportunity for me to create a whole new life,” he says. “I feel very good about it."
Jon keeps five beehives on his own Oviedo property and enjoys visiting the bees, especially in the evening. A beehive swarming with energy in the morning is noticeably more subdued in the evening after its inhabitants have spent the day traveling miles to hunt for pollen.
Initially, Jon had to wear protective gear around his bees to keep from being stung. Today, that is no longer necessary because, he says, his bees have become accustomed to his presence.
Besides their obvious value in keeping household gardens thriving – and the nation’s food supply growing – bees offer a less-tangible benefit, Jon believes. They can be downright therapeutic.
“Checking on my bees is good for decompressing at the end of the day,” he says. “It’s very relaxing, I’ve come to find out.”
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