Have smoker and veil, will travel.
As the founder of Bees Without Borders, Andrew Coté travels the world teaching beekeeping as a way to help alleviate poverty in underserved communities. Whether it’s helping beekeepers learn how to increase honey production or teaching people the trade, Mr. Coté only goes where invited.
“I don’t want to force people. I only go where asked because I want us to be a resource, available and responsive to needs,” says Coté, a fourth-generation beekeeper. His nonprofit group has worked with communities in Fiji, Uganda, Haiti, and Kenya.
Coté started beekeeping when he was 10 years old. He now has more than 200 hives, each with about 75,000 bees.
He got the idea for Bees Without Borders during a trip to Guatemala with his father in the 1980s. They met local beekeepers and advised them how to better maintain their hives. Afterward the father and son discussed the possibility of doing the same thing elsewhere.
“I’ve never taken a trip without [beekeeping] equipment again,” Coté says. He adds: “Bees Without Borders combines the four things I love: philanthropy, education, travel, and beekeeping.”
Coté sells honey under the label Andrew’s Honey. Ten percent of the proceeds go to Bees Without Borders. The honey is available at Greenmarket at Union Square in New York City as well as at farmers’ markets in Connecticut.
Bees Without Borders is a lean organization that goes only where invited. It has no board of directors or marketing department.
“I’d rather be small and implement change well than larger and bludgeon change,” he says.
After he gets a request for help, Coté goes on a fact-finding mission to assess the needs and skills of a particular community. Then he calls on volunteers. He usually travels with two or three other people.
“There aren’t too many people with beekeeping skills who can take two to three weeks off from work and pay for the airfare,” Coté says. “There also aren’t too many people who would pay for the pleasure of being, say, on the Congo border where they might be threatened by the Lord's Resistance Army,” one of Africa's oldest and most violent armed groups.
Coté says he isn’t cavalier about his safety. Rather he’s simply aware of the dangers in places Bees Without Borders operates, such as the Niger Delta in Nigeria and Iraq. He takes “every conceivable precaution,” he says, including alerting consulates and embassies. Sometimes armed security guards accompany the beekeeping team.
Bees Without Borders usually visits a place only once. Kenya, the most recent trip, has been an exception.
“It took three trips to get it right; twice to set up the hives and help get it running," he says. "A third time was because the honey badgers tore the hives apart."
His nonprofit raised $20,000 through crowdsourcing so that the Nigerian beekeepers could buy proper fencing.
Bees Without Borders is also active in the United States. Coté has been invited to help beekeepers in the New York City area.
Coté’s honey is bottled at the Silvermine Apiary in Norwalk, Conn., but he calls New York City home. He founded the New York City Beekeepers Association in 2010 to promote responsible urban beekeeping.
Nicknamed New York’s busiest beekeeper, Coté advocates licenses for beekeepers, mandatory classes, and a limited number of beekeeping permits.
“That might hurt my business, but too many beekeepers means too many hives, and then the bees starve,” he says. “Right now anyone can put a hive on their roof.
"Those cowboy and cowgirl beekeepers think it’s something cool to do until it doesn’t work out. Then they walk away from it. That leaves a swarm, and that’s dangerous.”