WASHINGTON COUNTY - There's a common misconception that Albert Einstein made the statement: “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” While those words were actually spoken by Belgium Literature Nobel Prize Winner Maurice Maeterlinck in his 1901 publication, "The Life of a Bee," experts say there's an unnerving truth to the declaration, regardless of who spoke it, and Washington County beekeepers are among those hoping to highlight the important role bees play in our ecosystem.


WASHINGTON COUNTY - There's a common misconception that Albert Einstein made the statement: “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” While those words were actually spoken by Belgium Literature Nobel Prize Winner Maurice Maeterlinck in his 1901 publication, "The Life of a Bee," experts say there's an unnerving truth to the declaration, regardless of who spoke it, and Washington County beekeepers are among those hoping to highlight the important role bees play in our ecosystem.



"Bees are responsible for pollinating a third of everything we eat," said Brenton Reynolds, President of the Central Panhandle Beekeeper's Association. "Some folks think, 'OK, we'll just take away that third and eat other things,' but the way our ecosystem works, everything is dependant on everything else. Take away that third, and it's a domino effect from there."



Florida's Central Panhandle is home to a growing majority of the state's apiaries, with 15 registered in Washington County alone. Reynolds says his organization is steadily growing, with about 40 members attending the monthly meetings at the Washington County Agricultural Center.



"Beekeeping has really picked up, especially in Washington County, in recent years, partly because the local Extension Office began offering bee workshops," said David Westervelt, acting assistant chief of apiary inspections for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.



Washington County has a rich history of cultivating leaders in the art of beekeeping.



Third-generation beekeeper and Chipley native Laurence Cutts is considered to be among the state's top authorities in the beekeeping industry, having served as State of Florida's Chief Apiary Inspector. Cutts is still sought after as a speaker and teacher on the subject and was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2012 in honor of his life's work and innovations.



that same year, the state passed legislation preventing local government restrictions on apiaries, preempting all regulation to the state.



Since then, the number of registered beekeepers has risen from 2,600 to nearly 3,900.



The law was revisited last month after the City of Vernon held discussion about the possibility of restricting beekeepers within the city limits. Not only does the statute supersede the town's authority to pass any ordinances regulating beekeepers, it allows beekeepers to request services such as mosquito spraying not be performed within 400 feet of their hives.



"This law helps protect and encourage beekeepers," said Westervelt. "Honeybees are vital to all aspects of the state's $120 billion agriculture industry."



John White, who serves as Chief of Vernon Fire and Rescue, is among local bee enthusiasts and began his colonies about five years ago. With 12 hives serving as home to about 180,000 bees, White says his operation is small scale and more of a hobby.



"I've always been fascinated with bees," said White. "While I enjoy it, and it's relaxing to me, I'm also able to educate my children about how important the bees are. if it weren't for them, we wouldn't have the food we need to survive."



White is teaching the art to his son Jacob, 6, and daughter, Cheyenne, 5. His wife, Amy, is allergic to beestings, but she still helps by harvesting the honey from time to time.



"We just keep an epi-pen nearby," he said. "We like to give the honey to our family and friends," said White. "We have a good Tupelo, which is comparable to that of Wewa. We take pride in it."



Wewahitchka is nationally renown for its honey production and has even hosted the Tupelo Honey Festival for 25 years.



For more information on beekeeping, or to join the Central Panhandle Beekeepers Association, contact Brenton Reynolds at 850-373-6436.