Greenfield Plays Host to 6th Langstroth Bee Fest

The Recorder, June 1st, 2016, by Richie Davis

Suddenly, the world seems abuzz about the plight of pollinators, and interest is growing in backyard beekeeping, for which Greenfield has become something of a sweet spot.

That’s because, as the birthplace of the modern bee hive, Greenfield is home to the Langstroth Bee Fest, named for moveable beehive inventor Lorenzo Langstroth. And next weekend, to mark the sixth annual Greenfield bee fest that kicks off an entire “Greenfield Bee Week,” Langstroth himself will be appearing, sort off.

A one-man show, “Bee Man,” will bring Langstroth — impersonated by Washington, D.C.-area actor Marc Hoffman — to the Second Congregational Church pulpit where “the father of modern beekeeping” served as pastor from 1840-1848. In addition to Hoffman’s 7 p.m. Friday portrayal of Langstroth in his Greenfield years, this year’s bee fest will also include an appearance by Langstroth’s great-great-great-grandson to dedicate a new display pointing back to the invention of the movable bee hive.

Festival events

The annual fest on Saturday will include a kids’ honeybee tea party, tasting of honey from around the world, a pollinators parade, an organ rendition of “The Flight of the Bumblebee” and a series of “Langstroth Lectures” by more than a half-dozen presenters.

Last year, the event attracted more than 200 people, but it’s expected to draw many more this weekend, said co-chair Sandy Thomas.

“We’re now getting beekeepers coming from all over the country, looking for Langstroth’s church and the dedication monument around the corner, but they want more information, so we feel both an interest and an obligation to provide more information to them,” she said.

Langstroth brought a stock of bees with him in a hollow log when he arrived in Greenfield in 1840 to become principal of a girls’ high school next door to the church, where he also was hired to be part-time pastor, according to a recent American Bee Journal article by former Gill resident William Blomstedt.

“He also brought with him the only information on bees he had: Virgil’s ‘Georgics’ and a small beekeeping book in which the author doubted the existence of the queen bee,’” according to Blomstedt’s article that calls attention to the Greenfield festival.

Langstroth, who suffered from episodic depression, moved in 1848 to Philadelphia, but returned to Greenfield in the fall of 1852, when he also patented his design for a moveable-frame hive. The following year, he wrote his beekeeping manual, “Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-bee,” which was printed by Charles A. Mirick on Newton Place, next door to the church.

Hoffman, himself a beekeeper who began several years ago performing a three-act, one-man show that focused on the entire life of the clergyman who was fascinated by the behavior of bees as an expression of “the mysterious universe of God,” has visited Greenfield to do research about Langstroth, yet is excited at the notion of portraying him in his own town, in the church where he preached, next door to the Asher Benjamin-designed house where he lived and the Town Hall site of the publisher of his classic bible of beekeeping, “The Hive and the Honeybee.”

“He was remarkable at observing behavior,” Hoffman said of Langstoth, who he said responded to the question, “How could you be a natural scientist and a clergyman” by saying, “You learn God’s way through the written word, but also through his creations.”

Other events

In addition to his Friday performance (the $5 requested will be the only charge this weekend) Hoffman will be among the presenters at the Langstroth Lectures, along with Dan Conlon of Warm Colors Apiary in Deerfield.

Conlon, who will also offer a beekeeping demonstration, says backyard beekeeping continues to be building in popularity, both locally and across the nation.

“We hear that from all the state beekeeping associations and you can see it at the Eastern Apiary Society’s week-long conference, where 10 or 12 years ago, we’d get 400 to 500 people and now it’s double that. The state associations report being top-heavy with brand new members. The demand for his own beekeeping classes has expanded so much, Conlon said, “There are more people than we can accommodate.

“The trend started when people first started hearing bad news about bees, and we thought nobody would want to raise bees anymore because there was such gloom and doom,” he said. “But people wanted to do something about the loss of pollinators, and one thing you can do is raise bees in your backyard.”

Although many of the problems faced by pollinator populations continue, Conlon said, this past relatively mild winter helped more bees survive, so now his sales of beekeeping equipment are going strong, with people adding hives. The hardiness and numbers of honeybees is also reflected in the large number of swarms that people are reporting.

“I don’t remember a more intense swarming season in 10 or 15 years,” said Conlon, who is able to sell more equipment for new hives started that way.

Other mini-lectures will include Massachusetts State Bee Inspector Kim Skyrm on the status of honeybees in the state, a talk about Slovenian beekeeping by Renae Barton, and former Recorder Editor Tim Blagg’s presentation on the friendship between bee and dinosaur experts Langstroth and Dexter Marsh.

“So here we have the bees, the littlest animals on Earth, and dinosaurs, the biggest animals on earth!” says Thomas. “That’s incredible! These guys were friends and neighbors!”

Lynn Adler, a University of Massachusetts biology professor who has done research on one of the diseases responsible for deaths of some types of bumblebees, will describe why the choice of plantings we use to help pollinators can have big effects on disease transmission and why diverse plantings matter.

“I do think there’s a shift in the consciousness of people,” said Thomas, who was stopped short in her observation while sitting on the front steps of Langstroth’s church by the arrival of a hovering bee — apparently dropping in from an overhead nest.

“Well, hello!” she greeted the bee, which immediately took off.

“I know anecdotally a lot of friends are planting more flowers or thinking about what they can do for the bees,” said Thomas. “People want to know, What’s this about? How they can help? That’s the reason we do all this. What can people do? They can plant flowers, they can not use pesticides … or they can keep bees. There are myriad things you can do.”

You can reach Richie Davis at
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269