Caneel Bay resort on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, has the requisite high-end-hotel accoutrements: private water shuttle, dive center, tennis courts, gorgeously landscaped grounds. And then there’s the beekeeper, Elmo Rabsatt Sr. “They love it here,” Rabsatt says of his five-star swarm.
The retired National Park Service ranger tends the 170-acre resort’s three hives; their annual bounty—about 135 pounds of organic honey—is drizzled out to Caneel Bay’s restaurants, bars, and spa and will soon be sold at its gift shop.
Ecological correctness comes naturally to St. John, where a national park protects two-thirds of the forested, 20-square-mile island. It’s not only Caneel Bay that’s going apiarist: Rabsatt estimates he’s also taught beekeeping to approximately 50 residents—an impressive number in a place with a year-round population of less than 4,200. “It’s a plus for everyone: the bees, the people, the flowers,” he says. “Everyone’s profiting.”
The islanders’ interest mirrors the mainland’s locavore food movement and concerns about colony collapse disorder, which has devastated the honeybees that pollinate one-third of America’s food crops. Beekeeping can help fill that void. From Boston’s InterContinental to Chicago’s Marriott, city hotels have installed rooftop hives and used the harvest for signature drinks and special entrees. Since 2009 a hive has graced the White House kitchen garden; in 2010 New York City rescinded its ban on beekeeping, once considered a public nuisance. Experts estimate there are more than 100,000 small-scale beekeepers in the United States today.
In the Virgin Islands, where almost every foodstuff is shipped in, apiculture reduces imports and the resulting carbon emissions. The artisanal honey, with floral notes such as lime and mango, also dovetails with the territory’s recent “Virgin Fresh” initiative; at least a dozen beekeepers, including Francis Jackman (shown above), are taking part on St. John, St. Croix, and St. Thomas. “It’s therapeutic,” says chef Alexandra Ewald, who keeps eight hives and uses honey in dishes at La Tapa, her highly regarded Cruz Bay restaurant. “In the restaurant business you’re always stressed. You can’t do that working with bees. You have to switch it off.”