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Deval Patrick creates a buzz in the beekeeping world

Former governor Deval Patrick examined a hive during the Langstroth Bee Fest held at the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

GREENFIELD — Deval Patrick knows the challenges of beekeeping.

He contends with bears; he has had colonies take wing and never return; he was chased into a pool by his bees and once stung close to an eye.

But he also knows the magic, the former governor told beekeeping enthusiasts Saturday inside the Second Congregational Church at the Langstroth Bee Fest.

“I’ve always been compelled by things that make you slow down and pay attention to Mother Nature’s schedule rather than your own,” said Patrick. “And so you can imagine, maybe, why beekeeping seemed like just the right thing in the midst of being governor of this commonwealth.”

Patrick, now a managing director at Bain Capital, served as governor from 2007 to 2015 before declining to seek re-election. His three decades of perennial gardening led him to venture into beekeeping about four or five years ago, he told the Globe.


“My wife said, ‘No, no, no, hell no,’ until she said yes,” Patrick said. “I just wore her down.”

Alan Stefanini, a Greenfield resident who has kept bees for decades with his wife, recalled bringing some of the insects from their backyard to Patrick’s home in Richmond — a tiny town in the Berkshires along the New York-Massachusetts border.

The Patricks’ sprawling property has wildflowers, woods, an old apple orchard — “a place where a bee would be ecstatic to live,” according to Stefanini, who, with his wife, Dianne, introduced Patrick to the hobby.

Patrick, said Stefanini, “was a natural. He took to it right away.”

Though Patrick’s wife, Diane, doesn’t tend to the hives, the former governor said, she is interested in the bees and recently planted a vegetable garden that they will be able to take advantage of.

“When our youngest daughter asked that I bottle honey for all of the guests at her wedding last year, it was a family breakthrough,” Patrick said.


Patrick has Langstroth hives on the property, adding his third this year. The popular modular hive was designed in the mid-1800s by the Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth — a former pastor at the Second Congregational Church, where the bee fest was held.

From left: Four-year-olds Esme Sautter, Oliver Audet, and Conor O’Connell tried to find the queen in a hive at the Langstroth Bee Fest.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Sandy Thomas, a Sunday school teacher at the congregation and co-chair of the Langstroth Bee Fest, said she had come up with the idea for the event after researching “the father of modern beekeeping.”

The fest has two goals for the children who came: to show them not to fear bees and to teach them the importance of bees as pollinators.

Thomas’s 5-year-old granddaughter had been “petrified of bees,” she said. “Every time she sees a bee now, she goes, ‘Thank you, bee, for pollinating!’ ”

Children dressed as bees, flowers, fairies, even beehives buzzed around the church exterior. Teenagers painted faces, volunteers served honey pie, and a person in a bee costume led a Pollinator Parade. And there was a small glass beehive display where excited children — and Patrick — identified the queen bee.

For adults, there were lectures from experts, including the state beekeeper, Dr. Kim Skyrm, and the editor-in-chief of Bee Culture magazine, Kim Flottum.

The 4,000 native bee species in the US pollinate about 75 percent of our fruits, nuts, and vegetables, according to a report by the USDA and Pollinator Partnership. Losing bees has the potential to upend humanity’s food chain — and it’s a growing problem.


Colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon causing bees to die in droves, is driven by three main factors: predators, such as varroa mites; pesticides; and increasing lack of foraging space, according to Flottum.

“You’re sick, you’ve got this [mite the size of a] pineapple hanging off your neck, you’ve got this virus rummaging through your body, and now you go to the refrigerator and there’s nothing there for you to eat,” he said to the audience. “That’s where our bees are at.”

From beekeeping to planting flowers to even just mowing your lawn less frequently, there are numerous ways humans can assist bees, according to the speakers.

Following the speakers, Patrick presented the first annual Langstroth Bee Space Awards, to five bee-friendly gardens: Erving Elementary School in Erving, the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Laughing Dog Farm in Gill, and two pollinator gardens at the University of Massachusetts Amherst — one tended by students and the other by the agriculture department.

Patrick won a raffle — “fair and square,” said Thomas — and snagged a quilt patterned with bees and honeycomb.

He gave it to the Stefaninis.

With the couple’s 8-month-old grandson wrapped in the quilt and asleep in her arms, Dianne Stefanini spoke about how the former governor had so quickly “grabbed onto every aspect” of beekeeping.

And, said her husband, “he’s been head-over-heels about it ever since.”

Volunteer Sara Penn-Strah greeted visitors during the Langstroth Bee Fest on Saturday.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Nicole Fleming can be reached at