Growing up, Anne Cabell had always been afraid of bees.
It wasn’t until she chaperoned one of her son’s school field trips a decade ago that she became fascinated by the insects and their role in the food system.
Not long after, she invested in her first hive and now Cabell is the keeper of nearly 60,000 bees that pollinate the Carolina Campus Community Garden and the area surrounding the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“It’s opened up this whole world,” said Cabell, an administrative director at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It’s soothing and calming. I enjoy it.”
For the past seven years, Cabell has been the official beekeeper of the hive at the North Carolina Botanical Garden’s Carolina Campus Community Garden, a volunteer-driven garden that provides free produce for lower-wage earners on staff at Carolina.
“The mission of the garden is to grow vegetables and fruit so that all UNC employees have access to fresh, sustainably grown produce through the efforts of students, staff, faculty and local residents,” said Claire Lorch, Community Garden Education Coordinator. “We feel incredibly fortunate to have Anne and her beehive at the garden. The bees help to pollinate much of what grows at the garden such as okra, cucumber, eggplant, beans, persimmons, strawberries and grapes.”
Resting on two cinder blocks, the wooden containers don’t look like much from afar. But up close, the hum of the beehive reveals the activity of the 60,000 bees that will likely produce about 25 pounds of honey this summer.
In addition to Cabell’s hives, the garden hosts two other hives. One belongs to another local beekeeper and one belongs to the recently launched Carolina Beekeeping Club.
During warm weather, Cabell checks on the hives once a week to manage the population within the hive and inspect for mites that could wipe out her honeybee population. She also makes sure the queen bee is healthy and then harvests honey in the summer.
“It’s year round,” she said of the work. “They don’t hibernate in the winter. They’re all alive and awake in there.”
The hobby is a calming break from Cabell’s day job of creating mobile health applications that help develop behavioral science interventions aimed at health promotion and disease prevention.
“It’s really meditative,” she said of beekeeping. “I really get in a zone with the bees. I feel like it is helping nature.”
With honeybees typically flying in a three-to-five-mile radius, Cabell’s bees are pollinating the garden as well as parts of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, serving a crucial role in the ecosystem.
“As the bees go, we go,” Cabell said. “They are so critical to our food system. One-third of our food is pollinated by honeybees directly, and indirectly — so pollinating things that other pollinators need — they affect about 75 percent of the food system. Because bees are so critical to our food system, raising awareness to what they do and the importance of them is just critical.”
The hive also serves as a learning opportunity for the community. Throughout the year, Cabell hosts tours and educational sessions to showcase the honeybees’ impact on local crops and flowers.
“When people really start to understand and learn what the honeybees do, it just makes them realize and appreciate them and want to do anything they can [to help],” she said. “There’s a definite bonus to sharing that information and educating people about honeybees.”