For the Love of Bees

David Salomon Saleh has been managing the bees at Gaining Ground this past year.

I have always wanted to work with animals, but growing up in a crowded city like Bogotá, Colombia, there was a large gap between what I learned in school and the knowledge of the world of animals that I was seeking. In 2010, I became captivated by honeybees, with their mystical world and important connection to our food systems. This early interest opened the door for me to become an animal scientist.

My first experience with beekeeping started when I became part of the Science and Technology for Bees’ Development Research Group at the University of Columbia. I led a research study on pollen quality and how its microbiome was affected by the drying conditions that beekeepers implemented before packing and distributing it as a natural nutritional supplement. I later received a grant to design and build alternative options for bee pollen dryers for rural beekeepers, many of whom lack access to reliable electricity. At the same time, I had my own apiary and was running a small bee products business which brought high-quality honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and related products from the countryside to consumers in the capital.

During this time, I became interested in learning more about beekeeping in other countries and had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania, Zambia, and Mexico. In 2016, when I moved to the US, I was excited to be introduced to Gaining Ground. As a volunteer, I met other local beekeepers and learned more about the specific challenges bees face in this latitude. In 2017 I was accepted as a research fellow in the Bee Lab at the USDA-ARS in Maryland, where I did laboratory research to prove that feeding bees with thermally treated pollen is better for them than soybean patties.

When the fellowship ended, I became an apiary inspector for the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. In this seasonal position, I visited commercial and non-commercial apiaries across Massachusetts to collect data from their hives to help us understand pesticides, viruses, and pest interactions in bee colonies.

I am grateful to have learned so much about beekeeping in the US during this last year from many different perspectives and also to put this knowledge into practice through caring for the hives at Gaining Ground.