Nikkia Rowe began her beekeeping journey in 2019 with the founding of the John Newman Honeybee Company. She now sells locally-raised, raw honey to Baltimore residents. (Courtesy Photo)
By Megan Sayles
AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
Everyone has a bee story. Most of the accounts involve buzzing and unpleasant stings, and they culminate in an enduring fear of bees. Baltimore native Nikkia Rowe’s bee story tells a different tale. She’s been stung in the cheek, various limbs and on the top of her foot, which she said was the most painful prick. However, none of Rowe’s run-ins with the pollinators prevented her from opening The John Newman Honeybee Company, a Black- and woman-owned apiary in Baltimore City.
“Every time that I’m stung I’m like, ‘Life is so much harder than this little sting,’” said Rowe. “Once you conquer your fear, you’ll realize the beauty of bees.”
The beekeeper grew up in South Baltimore’s Cherry Hill community. She formerly served as principal at Renaissance Academy High School in the Madison Park neighborhood but was unexpectedly removed from the position by Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises in 2018. Rowe was out of a job for a year, and during that time, she became interested in running her own honeybee operation.
“In the year that I was off, I went back to school to learn beekeeping and then built a thought on how we can put our apiary in a location that allows for us to become a part of the economic ecosystem in the city for people that are looking to explore beekeeping,” said Rowe.
With only $2,000 left in her savings account, Rowe decided to take a chance. In 2019, she purchased bees and set up her first two hives. During this initial effort, she did not harvest any honey, and instead, focused on honing her skills as a beekeeper.
In the 2020 bee season, which runs from March to October, Rowe approached the Black Yield Institute, a steward of the Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden. After this connection, she was able to set up hives at the farm in the community she grew up in. Rowe now manages 12 hives, 10 of which are located in Cherry Hill, and, in the off season, she works as a social sciences teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools.
“Beekeeping is really more complex than what I thought it would be,” said Rowe. “It’s like a huge puzzle.” Unfortunately, honeybees have been dying off for some time now as a result of climate change, mites, pesticides and habitat destruction. Aside from the loss of honey, the extinction of the pollinators would remove numerous foods from our diet, including apples, almonds, broccoli and strawberries. Rowe said her role as a beekeeper is to troubleshoot these hazards to ensure the colonies’ survival.
Throughout bee season, Rowe visits her hives at least one a week. She spends about an hour checking in with each colony. From start to finish, the honey process takes anywhere from three to five hours, and Rowe usually harvests 10 to 20 honey frames. Sales are made on The John Newman Honeybee Company’s website and social media, and Rowe also sells her honey at pull-up locations throughout the city, as well as at the Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden pop-up twice a month.
Although female bees compose the majority of a colony, the beekeeping industry is dominated by White males. Because of this, Rowe said she wants to pass her beekeeping expertise onto young women.
“I think that it’s a space that women and women of color need to get into,” said Rowe.
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