Besides education, my background is also in animal care, training and handling. I have enjoyed my previous jobs working with animals in the education field, developing and presenting animal outreach programs. I have been lucky enough to spend some of my days working with critters ranging from hairy tarantulas to artic foxes and red wriggler worms to golden eagles, doing so in zoos, nature centers, rehabs and schools.
Being involved in schools now for 14 years, I presently work at Nature's Way Montessori School in Knoxville TN. There I am an Elementary Classroom Guide, working with kids in all subjects and leading student groups in Biome, Animal and Earth Studies. In its fourth year, I have developed a school wide, honey bee education program which includes a student managed hive, an on-site observation hive and a 6 week beekeeping class offered to the adolescent community. I also have the opportunity to lead outdoor, environmentally focused, community service type lessons like composting. With a team of middle school students, each week we compost all of the schools food waste! Being very happy in my niche there, I plan to stay at Nature's Way until I can be a full time employee for The Burns and The Bees.
I was lucky enough to grow up in the Great Smoky Mountains with parents that took me hiking, camping and fishing all the time. Together, we spent a lot of our time outdoors. I have always loved the natural world around me, especially all the critters! Besides having pet dogs, my animal husbandry interest and adventures started young when I saved up enough money for a pet cockatiel. Of course I didn't stop there. My poor mother had to endure a whole menagerie of my "pets" in her house. Everything from fish and turtles that I would bring home as a kid to the exotic reptiles I began to buy, breed and sell during high school. Just before I moved to Florida to attend zoo management school, I had over 100 snakes in my bedroom in my parents’ house!
Zoo school led me to an internship at the National Zoo in Puerto Rico, a job at UT caring for lab animals and then onto a position at Knoxville Zoo where I was privileged enough to care for and train three African elephants. It was around then that my lovely wife and I were preparing for our wedding and found the need for honey to make mead. With my first 2 honey bees hives, I knew I was on the path of pollen! I quickly knew that I had the desire to keep bugs in a box full time and for a living. Honeybees have been the most fascinating, challenging and rewarding animals I have ever cared for.
"How did you guys get started?"
Let's go back to 2007...we both had a desire to incorporate various cultural traditions and customs into our Autumnal Equinox wedding. We stumbled upon, and purchased a handmade Celtic Goblet from a local potter. We learned that traditionally, these beautiful containers were used in Irish wedding ceremonies. They were to be filled to the top with "honey wine" and drank by the couple just after the vows. One belief was that sharing mead, a delicate yet potent alcoholic drink, would bring good beginnings to a marriage and increase fertility, thus coining the term "honeymoon." Another suggested use of our new goblet was for peace. One person would fill it and present it to the other when something needed to be worked on, fixed or discussed in their marriage, peacefully, with active listening and understanding...and again, out of that same loving cup, they would drink mead together. Well we were sold!
We had loved brewing craft beer but now we had a greater need, a need for mead. So, we wanted to have some bottled and ready to drink, share and give away at our wedding! Now where to get 5 gallons of preferably organic, local, raw honey?! After days of calls, emails, research looking for a direct source, we decided to purchase from a local food co-op. We were very grateful (yet the honey was not claimed or advertised to be organic or raw) to find the quantity that we needed available right there in town. Months later, our first 6 gallon batch of homemade mead and our Celtic Goblet were both used exactly as intended.
So, after noticeably paying for, successfully fermenting and celebrating with this "liquid gold", we began to think further into honey bees, their purpose, their value, their efforts, their keeper’s efforts and their treatment. With both of us having substantial experience and enjoyment in animal husbandry and future goals of living off grid/sustainably, bees and keeping them were of obvious interest to us. We decided to start researching. We would read, listen to and watch everything we could pertaining to bees...We had soon caught the buzz and knew we were ready to prepare for, care for, manage our own hives.