Buzz and bling: do bees follow the money?

"Do honeybees thrive when a community isn't?"

Buzz and bling: do bees follow the money?
Honeybee, Red Bank, Tenn.

It's a theory.

"Do honeybees thrive when a community isn't?" asks Carmen Joyce.

Last Sunday, we published our beloved story on local beekeeper and Nooga Honey Pot founder Carmen Joyce. Visiting her, we also encountered what felt like a miracle: a swarming hive.

Carmen Joyce, Red Bank, Tenn.

It was unforgettable, easily one of our very favorite afternoons. Plus, we think Carmen hung the moon.

Many of you agree.

"I have sent this magical story today to at least ten people in all parts of the country," one reader said.

"Oh Carmen, this is such a wonderful story," said another. "I love it. The photographs are marvelous and so are you."

We'll never tire of saying this: thank you, Food as a Verb friends, for reading and receiving our work. For sharing it. For loving it.

Even for criticizing it.

One reader called our honeybee story a "big lie."

"[Honeybees] are a non-native species contributing to the decline of native pollinators," she wrote, calling them "disease carriers" that "mostly pollinate non-native plants."

Our response momentarily.

First, though, back to Carmen's theory.

As we were chatting there in this gorgeous Red Bank meadow, with so many plants, trees and shrubs in bloom, she floated this theory of hers:

Do honeybees thrive in wealthier communities as opposed to poorer ones?

She explained: in wealthier neighborhoods, there's more income spent on land-and-yardscaping. More fruit trees. More shrubs, plants, sunflowers, marigolds and Joe Pye Weed.

"Look at Red Bank, with all these ornamental trees and landscaping and flowers and gardens," she said. "Do bees do better here?"

Some research that suggests honeybees do better in cities, as urban environments either directly promote honeybee health or simply lack the stressors – pesticides, for example – often predominant in rural settings.

But Carmen's suggesting something even more nuanced.

Do honeybee populations flourish when surrounded by flourishing neighborhoods? Conversely, do they suffer when surrounded by yards and neighborhoods that lack landscaping, flowering trees and floriculture?

Do honeybees follow the money?

"You could say a similar thing about many other things," responded another beekeeper and friend of Carmen's. "Do riding stables and dance schools and bakeries do better where there is more affluence?"

"It's my theory. I think about it a lot," Carmen said.

Carmen Joyce, Nooga Honey Pot, Red Bank, Tenn.

We're mentioning this in hopes some academic or researcher has any interest in partnering with her and pursuing this theory more fully.

If so, email or contact Carmen directly.

Food as a Verb thanks our good friend Whitney Drayer, senior vice-president at Morgan Stanley, for his generous support.

Contact Whitney at or 423-752-4736.

Now, a response to the "big lie" email.

"There isn’t solid research that honeybees are causing anyone’s decline," said Carmen.

Yes, honeybees are non-native, brought here in the 17th century by European colonists. Today, they are considered livestock.

"In a single year, one honey bee colony can gather about 40 pounds of pollen and 265 pounds of nectar. Honey bees increase our nation's crop values each year by more than 15 billion dollars," states the US Dept. of the Interior.

Like our emailing reader, some see honeybees as detrimental to native populations.

In "The Problem with Honeybees," Alison McAfee writes in Scientific American that honeybees "destabilize natural ecosystems by competing with native bees – some of which are species at risk."

"High densities of honey bee colonies increase competition between native pollinators for forage, putting even more pressure on the wild species that are already in decline," McAfee writes.

Carmen and other beekeepers disagree.

"I hate the whole 'non-native' species bologna," Carmen's beekeeping friend said. "Cattle and sheep and pigs and white and Black people are all non-native. So is cotton and wheat and many other foods we eat. I'd like to see data that [honeybees] cause harm to native pollinators. No one has shown that yet. And no one has proven that natives can pollinate our foods well enough to keep us eating."

The inherent nature of beekeeping directly and indirectly supports the larger ecology – natives and non-natives, too.

"It is a beekeeper's responsibility to support native bees and habitats," said Carmen. "Just about every beekeeper I know that educates anyone about bees adds facts to their presentation about native bees and native plants. We also encourage people to plant natives and we realize the honeybee doesn't need 'saving' in the same way others bees do."

It's true that larger populations of honeybees could out-forage bumblebees in particular areas, but "bumblebees and honeybees don’t eat the same things because their tongues don’t always reach certain nectars, pollens," she added.

They balk at the implied us/them narrative. Beekeeping and honeybees are part of the larger work that elevates, protects and sustains so much being threatened, damaged and lost.

"Let's stop finding ways to divide and label people. We need all the pollinators no matter where they come from," Carmen's friend said.

"We aren’t saying don’t support any other bees," Carmen added. "We are saying: hey, look how cool these honeybees are! Also, honeybees are rugged and bad ass!"

Honeybees, Red Bank, Tenn.
  • Here at Food as a Verb, building community is one of our top goals. We're cooking up plans for an upcoming Food as a Verb Supper Club as well as a Book Club. We want to support so many regional people and places, including our sponsors.

Like Society of Work.

Several months ago, we were looking for a big room for a big day of brainstorming. Thanks to Society of Work on the North Shore, we reserved a corner office + whiteboard + table/desks/chairs for the day. Nearby, a kitchen. Posters about upcoming events. Even a tapped keg. In Food as a Verb's brief but formative history, the afternoon turned out to be monumental: decisions made, visions articulated, plans hatched.

Before we left, it was also quite clear: we'd love an office here.

Days later, we signed up. It's been one of the best decisions.

Society of Work is a shared co-working space with private offices, community desks, meeting rooms, the collective fellowship of working alongside others in a beautiful, inviting space. We love it.

For more info, email

  • This Sunday, we're celebrating Mother's Day by taking you to a beloved restaurant in Ooltewah where Mother's Day – love, care, nourishment – seems like every day.

Have a sweet week, everyone.

Honey, hives, Red Bank, Tenn.

All photography by Sarah Unger (

All design by Alex DeHart

All words by David Cook (

Story ideas, questions, feedback? Interested in sponsorship or advertising opportunities? Email us: and

This story is 100% human generated; no AI chatbot was used in the creation of this content.

Food as a Verb thanks our sustaining partners for their generous support.

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Regional Farmers' Markets

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Corner of W. 20th and Chestnut St., near Finley Stadium

Wednesday, 4 - 6pm

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Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Ave, Chattanooga, TN 

Saturday, 10am - noon

  • Chattanooga Market

1820 Carter Street, Sunday, 11am - 4pm

  • Fresh Mess Market

Harton Park, Monteagle, TN. (Rain location: Monteagle Fire Hall.) 

Every Thursday, 3pm - 6pm, beg. June 6 - Oct. 3

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The Ooltewah Nursery, Thursday, 3 - 6pm 

Pre-order online for Thursday pick-up between 4 - 6pm at Bachman Community Center

  • South Cumberland Farmers’ Market

Sewanee Community Center (behind the Sewanee Market on Ball Park Rd.) Tuesdays from 4:15 to 6:00 p.m. (central.) Order online by Monday 10 am (central.) 

  • St. Albans Farmers' Market

7514 Hixson Pike, Saturday, 9.30am - 12.30pm with a free pancake breakfast every third Saturday  

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Wednesday, 2 - 5 pm, Rock Spring Ag. Center 

Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm, downtown Lafayette, Georgia

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