If you’ve ever been stung by bees, it may be hard to see these insects as more than buzzing pests. But a look inside the efficiency of a hive shows how remarkable and worthy of imitation these creatures really are. Consider the bee’s life cycle. During the pupa stage, eyes, legs, and wings form. In adulthood, the insect chews its way out of a cell sealed by a worker bee. Once the cell is empty, worker bees clean it in preparation for the next egg. Some of us live life in a similar fashion.
Master Craftsman Beekeeper Bo Sterk’s most memorable experience in his 30-year career is one that – much like the life of a bee – came full circle. His work with his organization Bees Beyond Borders has sent him to Haiti on several occasions. “Their children,” observes Bo, “always come first.” During one visit, he helped a Haitian boy harness his traditional beekeeping techniques into a progressively sustainable and efficient process. First, Bo tripled the boy’s honey yield, the sales of which helped him buy a moped. Production then doubled, which enabled him to enroll in agronomy school. When Bo last visited his mentee, he’d graduated and become a professional agronomist – now overseeing 90 bee colonies. He now mentors up-and-coming beekeepers, just as Bo did with him. The way is paved for newcomers who will enter the scene and benefit from training in a nurturing environment. Compounding growth cycles on. Bo reflects on how he was able to “watch somebody grow up, stay with it, and actually take it to that next level.” His work has also taken him to Barbados, the Bahamas, and the Grenadine Islands where he’s made a noteworthy impact.
But it wasn’t overnight that Bo found himself traveling the world to protect bee populations, mentor youths, and speak before thousands at Istanbul’s renowned Beekeeping Congress. He grew up in a farming town outside of Cleveland, Ohio. In Cleveland, Bo met his wife, Jo Sinclair, who is an artist accomplished in the practice of encaustic paintings – an ancient technique that uses beeswax and pigment.
After the couple moved to St. Augustine in the early 80s, they befriended a woman who suffered from multiple sclerosis. She pursued bee sting therapy, and Bo started harvesting bees to make the treatment accessible for his dear friend. Back then, he couldn’t have imagined that bee preservation would become his life’s work. He was already an accomplished artist, selling up to 1,000 pieces a year.
Bo owns several rental properties, which he has renovated. His construction skillset comes into play when he gets swarm calls involving bees that infiltrate concrete, drywall, and siding. Bo safely vacuums the bees and relocates them so they can thrive and serve their originally intended purpose. Some of them end up at Bo’s bee farm off of Holmes Boulevard.
For over six years, Bo has been the president of the St. Johns County Beekeepers Association. When he isn’t responding to swarm calls, he trains and advises colleagues who reach out to him as one of three Master Craftsman Beekeepers in Florida. In the span of his career, Bo has seen the number of Floridian beekeepers increase from a few hundred to over 5,000. He’s leaving a positive mark on a discipline that’s intricately woven through our daily lives.