Brent Wesley stands outside of Middlebury Apiary in November with a Masonite hardboard, a few nails and a hammer. Behind him industry workers and business professionals zoom down Akron’s East Market Street, punching out in praise of the weekend. A few weeks have passed since his last hive inspection, and as beekeeper and owner of the property, Wesley needs to tend to his honeybees and repair maintenance around the yard.
“When you get inside, nature begins and the city stops,” Wesley says, unlocking the door of a wooden fence. “For me, this is paradise.”
Inside the gates lay a 40,000-square-foot patch of tall grass and a half-dozen honeybee hives stacked on makeshift cinder blocks and wooden planks. While most of his hives have become vacant over the last few years as bees migrate to new shelters, one remains active with nearly 30,000 bees huddled around a single queen to keep warm. With winter approaching, they’re reaping the benefits after a long year of labor, feasting off the excess nectar stored for the long cold months ahead.
“It’s how they survive during the winter. It’s why you don’t want to take too much [honey],” Wesley says. “It’s going to be quiet, but if there’s anything we can learn from bees it’s that our survival depends on family and that need of nurturing a community.”
A few worker bees rotate shifts, buzzing in and out of the crates to circulate heat. Wesley takes the board and slides it through the bottom of the stack to help limit cold drafts.
“When it’s swarm season, like in the spring and summer, you want to keep an eye on them every several days,” Wesley says, peering into the tower. “I try to condense them all in one [hive] around this time of year since they’re dormant and resting.”
Wesley started beekeeping in 2013 as a way to flesh out his growing curiosity around agriculture and opportunity. He then expanded that hobby into Akron Honey by building three apiaries across Akron over the last seven years and doling out a number of honey-related products at local farmers markets. In total, he’s harvested more than 3,320 pounds of honey and has sold nearly 1,090 pounds of honey to consumers nationwide.
His dedication to the craft even garnered him a spot on Cleveland Hustles, a reality competition show produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter in 2016. Even though he won the shot to open his own storefront with the help of an investor, he turned it down to remain close to home. It wasn’t until this past summer at the height of the pandemic that Wesley fully invested everything he had into his beekeeping business.