The Keepers of the Bees and the Honey
by Nancy A. Ruhling
Jun 22, 2018 | 473 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Nick Hoefly isn’t wearing gloves. His wife, Ashley, points this out as she pulls on a pair of rubber ones the color of sunflowers. They are getting ready to reach their hands into a hive filled with 5,000 buzzing bees, and she wants to make sure every vulnerable part of her body is protected. She hasn’t been stung – yet – but Nick has. Eight times. Nick, solid and self-assured, shrugs; it’s no big deal. Besides, he was a newbie when the incidents occurred. “Bare hands allow me to be more gentle with the bees,” he reminds her. “And it makes me more comfortable when I’m handling them.” This is important, he continues, because bees are sensitive creatures. They can, for instance, feel people’s fear, and that’s when they are likely to make a lightning-quick stinger strike. “They’re not like wasps,” he says, “even though they have a common ancestor. Bees are their vegetarian cousins. They will not sting unless they are threatened. The instinct to do it is hard-wired into them to be a last resort because stinging literally kills them.” Ashley, who has heard Nick’s honey-sweet sales pitch probably too many times, isn’t persuaded. Her gloves stay on. When they do don the sugar-white beekeeping suits that make them look like astronauts, she lets Nick take the lead. It is he who opens the hive and pulls out the shelf-like honeycomb frames as bees buzz around his body like fighter jets. Nick and Ashley, who are 32, have been keeping bees (and the bees have been keeping them busy) since 2015, when Nick placed his first 10,000-bee hive on their rooftop. A friend added a second one of the same size, and things took flight. “It was a hobby,” he says. “I had a lot of fun with those bees, and everyone wanted to buy honey, so we got more bees.” Nick, who is a freelance animator, never thought he would be an urban beekeeper. And bees certainly weren’t on Ashley’s mind. “I wasn’t even into honey,” she says. “But the first time I tasted ours, I fell in love with it.” Nick, a native of Bossier City, Louisiana, who moved to Ocala, Florida, when he was in high school, and Ashley, who is from Belleview, Florida, met when they were in different colleges in different states. With aspirations of becoming an astronaut, Nick was studying engineering and aerospace at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He also was in the Air Force ROTC, hoping to pilot planes. When an eye issue permanently grounded him, he switched to animation. Ashley, meanwhile, was pursuing a degree in art conservation at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. They met, through a mutual friend, when Ashley came back home for a visit. “I moved back to Florida to go to UCF mostly because of Nick,” she says. When she realizes how ridiculously romantic this sounds, she adds, “It also was because I got a scholarship that could be used at any state school in Florida.” Ashley, who wears her hair in milkmaid braids and looks as though she’s just stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, smiles reassuringly at Nick. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” she adds, “but love had a lot to do with it.” Once they had their diplomas and got engaged, in 2010 they moved into a studio apartment in Astoria. “We didn’t have jobs, but we had enough money to cover two months if we skipped a few meals,” Nick says. Ashley got a position as a financial coordinator at Columbia University’s graduate school of architecture, where she still works as an associate director in finance, and Nick picked up freelance animation projects, eventually setting up his own studio, Wonderbot. “He works 24 hours a day,” Ashley says. “Okay, it really is 20 hours a day. He does sleep for four.” He added beekeeping around the time Parker, their three-year-old son, was born, and was up to his elbows in honey when their daughter, Olivia, who is one-and-a-half, arrived. Nick and Ashley divide their beekeeping duties. “I do the grunt work,” Nick says. “Ashley does the bookkeeping and goes out with me when she can.” This year, their Astor Apiaries has 500,000 bees in ten of its own hives. In addition, Nick and Ashley take care of a handful of others in Brooklyn. Nick is looking forward not only to harvesting the late-summer honey, but also to expanding his buzzing business. And teaching his children all about the language of the bees. “When Parker gets old enough, which is only one or two years away, I will bring him around the hives,” Nick says, adding that he’s already taught the boy to be gentle around the insects. “And hopefully, he’ll get stung.” A sting for her son? Ashley is horrified. “That doesn’t sound right,” she says. “He needs to have the experience,” Nick says. Ashley lets the sentence fly right over her head. Astoria Characters Day: The 2nd Family Reunion is September 23. It is sponsored by Bareburger and Salt & Bone. Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyruhling and visit astoriacharacters.com.
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CB1 approves Variety expansion with some conditions
by Benjamin Fang
Jun 20, 2018 | 420 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Community Board 1 gave the green light to the Variety Boys and Girls Club’s expansion plan on Tuesday, but added several conditions to address local concerns. In a 29 to eight vote, with one abstention, the board approved the proposal to build a new five-story community facility at 21-12 30th Road, along with a 14-story, 112-unit residential building with retail on the first floor. But Variety would have to meet several conditions. First, the board wants Variety to agree to designate 30 percent of its units as affordable, with the average income range set for 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Second, the developer would have to distribute the affordable units equitably throughout the building, and help subsidize the amenities for the affordable units. CB1 also called for the applicant to use materials that will “lessen the visual intensity of the height” of the 14-story building.” Finally, the board asked Variety to commit to continuing programs without fees, and to increase scholarships for programs with fees. CB1 member Thomas Ryan also asked to make the 14-story building more environmentally friendly and aim to be energy-neutral, a stipulation that was approved as well. Walter Sanchez, president of the board at Variety, said after the meeting that he was thrilled with the community board’s overwhelming support. “Our goal as a club, since its founding in 1955, is to be an opportunity of learning and fun after-school for any child who walks in the door,” Sanchez said. “Being able to use the proceeds from a residential building to build a state-of-the-art club for the community is a win-win all around. I am glad the community board members saw that.” Variety executive director Matthew Troy said the new facility is needed to accommodate the growth of the Astoria and Long Island City communities. Last year alone, 1,700 children registered for the club’s programs. “What I think makes us special is that we really do serve every corner of the community,” he said. “Our community center, which is essentially what the Variety Boys and Girls Club is, is open to everyone. That’s the message I want to get across.” The club can fit about 220 students any point during the day, according to Richard Bass, an attorney with Akerman LLP, who is representing the Boys and Girls Club. The new five-story facility would fit approximately 500 kids at any given time. Troy said there were 642 children on their waiting list last year because the club didn’t have the capacity to take them in. “That really breaks my heart,” he said. “I want us to be open for everyone, that is our mission. We absolutely need more space, and this is our opportunity.” The funding provided by the residential building will not only help build the new facility, but also increase the club’s operating budget for programming. According to Troy, 85 percent of families attend the after-school program for free, while 60 percent go to summer camp for free. The more grants, donation and funding the club receives, the lower the fees will be, the executive director said. Troy also spoke about the improved quality of the programs offered, especially in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The club boasts a MakerSpace run by local tech entrepreneurs, a NASA-funded robotics program, a digital design program in partnership with Skanska, a BioBus biology program that allows kids to use microscopes and even JetBlue science hubs. The new facility will have more technology and science labs, a teaching kitchen, basketball and swimming facilities, and a planetarium. The space will also house 80 Universal Pre-Kindergarten seats, 50 spots for child care, a 175-community theater and a 250-seat conference space. “What we offer now is the best possible experiences for kids in this community, to make sure they have that advantage in life,” Troy said. “These are the opportunities that are going to set the children apart.” Sanchez said one of the most important features of the new club will be its nonprofit incubator. The club envisions having a shared workspace and office environment for nonprofits that serve children in the community, he said. “During our stakeholders planning meetings, before the amenities of the new building were determined, a number of community members thought there was a disconnect, and that there needed to be more integration and communication among organizations that serve youth in the LIC and Astoria area,” he said. “That’s when we saw the proliferation of shared workspace offices throughout Queens and New York, and saw how that model could work for nonprofits.” Sanchez said he’s already had conversations about giving shared workspace to local groups in the community such as Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation (SASF), the Boy Scouts, Virtual Enterprises, Zone 126 and Upward Bound. “How great would it be if these organizations collaborated to serve the children of the area?” Sanchez said. Community board members brought up myriad concerns about the project, particularly the 14-story residential building, street safety and the strain on local infrastructure. Board member Evie Hantzopoulos asked why Variety didn’t consider partnering with a nonprofit developer, who would share the same community goals as the club. Bass said creating only affordable housing on the site would not generate enough funds to build new club facility. “There are concerns about the tradeoffs here,” Hantzopoulos said. Elizabeth Erion, who co-chairs the board’s Land Use and Zoning Committee, also questioned the rationale to seek a R7X zone. Bass said the increased density would give more money for Variety’s expansion. The project now goes to the borough president’s office for a hearing and a recommendation, followed by the Department of City Planning for review. The City Council will then have “last licks,” said Councilman Costa Constantinides, who spoke about the proposal earlier in the meeting. “I look forward to partnering with the board and partnering with Variety Boys and Girls Club to make sure we get a good project there,” he said. “I think we will, because we always find a way to work together as one community for the betterment of our neighborhood.” Editor's Note: Walter Sanchez is the publisher of this newspaper.
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