Asher Landes’ work is not about the honey. As a “bee-centric beekeeper,” he’s more focused on keeping his hives healthy. Last year, he didn’t take a drop of the honey the million-plus bees he keeps on a Staten Island rooftop produced: “I left it all to make sure that they were able to get through the winter,” he says.
Asher’s path to New York City beekeeper began in Australia, where he was working as a chef. Burnt out, he spent some time working on a farm. Being outdoors and using his hands made him happy, while farming kept him connected to his passion for food. He and his wife moved to New York to study urban agriculture and, in 2016, they became farmers in residence at Urby, a Staten Island apartment complex. Asher started his apiary with 20 hives brought in from Pennsylvania.
For Asher, working with the bees is meditative. “Bees aren’t temperamental, but they feel your demeanor,” he says. “You have to be calm and relaxed, move efficiently and intentionally.”
It’s that mindset—and the break it provides from go-go city life—that Asher finds so rewarding and that he likes to share with guests. People get excited when they see up close the intricate world bees create, understand the role bees plays in the broader ecosystem, and allow themselves to get into the zen state required for proper bee handling.
“Working with bees is that one time where you can shut your brain off,” he says. “You have to or you’re going to get stung.”
When you open the hive you’re in their home. That means being as undisruptive as possible. I try to be calm, semi-zen and relaxed.