by Len Lear
A bad pun: Why did the bee get married?
Answer: Because he found his honey!
Chestnut Hill resident Stephanie Elson Bruneau, 37, is “the bee’s knees,” to quote a popular expression from the 1920s. She could probably wax poetic and come up with a pun that has more sting to it. A native of Mt. Airy, Stephanie went to the Miquon School as a child, which inspired in her a true love of nature. She went to Friends Select High School, Wesleyan University (2000) and Brown University (2006) for a masters degree in Environmental Planning and Policy.
She and her husband, Emile, who works at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, moved back to Chestnut Hill to raise their family — daughter Clara, 4 years old, who goes to Miquon and “loves the Miquon mud as much as I did,” and son Atticus, 1.
“For us,” said Stephanie last week, “Philly is the perfect place. We love exploring in the Wissahickon, romping in the streams and woods, getting lost on mountain bike trails, and we are truly enjoying the city’s ever-growing awareness of and appreciation for all that is local and sustainable. We love the strong sense of community in Northwest Philly, the diversity and all that the city has to offer in the way of music, art, food and more.”
But the real passion for Stephanie and Emile is beekeeping, which started when they lived in Boston. It was a hobby at first; they had one hive, then two, then three in the backyard of their rented apartment. “Our landlord became skeptical,” said Stephanie, “and we moved our hives to the Boston Nature Center, where we started a ‘Teaching Apiary’ with a few beekeeper friends. In Boston, we co-founded the Boston Area Beekeepers Association, and in 2012 started selling our honey, handcrafted beeswax candles and herb-infused beeswax-based body care products.”
When the family moved back to Philadelphia, they rented a truck, loaded up the kids and the bees and relocated everyone at once. Their bees now live at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd. “We couldn’t have found a more wonderful or willing partner. West Laurel Hill is truly a green oasis, and the folks there are truly committed to sustainability. They even ‘hire’ goats to control their invasive plants so that they don’t have to use pesticides. Really! This past season we had five hives there. Each hive has between 20,000 to 60,000 bees.”
Bees have smaller colonies in the winter and larger colonies in the summer when there is more work to do — collecting pollen and nectar from flowering plants. Bees live for 3-5 weeks in the summer when they are working very hard and 3-5 months in the winter when they are not flying so much and just clustering together, trying to keep the queen and themselves warm.
Stephanie has started a business called The Benevolent Bee. “My ultimate goal,” she explained, “is to share my passion for bees with others.” In addition to selling raw local honey and beeswax products, she also teach classes to all ages about bees, beekeeping and bee products. She sells her products — raw honey, beeswax candles, balms and salves and ceramics — at Weavers Way, Across the Way in Mt. Airy Village and at local fairs and markets, like the Mt. Airy Makers Markets.
“Bees are so important to humans; one-third of all of our food depends on their pollination. And as you know, bees are having a tough time, in large part as a result of commercial agriculture — a loss of biodiversity due to monocultures and the widespread use of pesticides. We see our small-scale, treatment-free, family-run apiary along with our work spreading the good word about the wonderful world of bees, as our small action towards a healthier world for bees.”
Stephanie has also organized the Mt. Airy Makers Markets for local craftspeople with Meg Hagele, owner of the High Point Cafe. “Meg immediately agreed to open up her cafes to local makers, staff the cafes for extra hours and help with publicity, all because she is a true believer in creating community, regardless of whether it makes sense for her bottom line. The markets will be the perfect place to do holiday shopping. You will be able to buy unique, handmade gifts made by artists in your neighborhood!”
The Dec. 4 Market will be at the Allens Lane Train Station, and the Dec. 10 Market will be across several businesses in Mt. Airy Village including High Point Cafe and The Big Blue Marble Bookstore. Both from 5 to 8 p.m. There will be music and singing in the street, and Mt. Airy Village businesses will stay open late!
For more information, visit thebenevolentbee.com