Each spring, Greenfield Bee Fest celebrates Lorenzo Langstroth, the “Father of American Beekeeping,” with fun and learning for all ages as we highlight the vital role of the honeybee in sustaining our environment.
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WHAT GREENFIELD BEE FEST IS
Greenfield Bee Fest was launched in the spring of 2010 by the Second Congregational Church of Greenfield as part of its 200th birthday celebration. Inspired by the work of former pastor, Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth, known as the “Father of American Beekeeping,” Bee Fest offered fun and learning for all ages, while highlighting the essential role of the honeybee in sustaining our environment. Since then, the festival has grown in scope, involving presenters and participants from throughout the community, across Massachusetts, and even across the Atlantic.
At Greenfield Bee Fest, the day’s games, crafts, lectures, music, costume parade, and other activities all incorporate lessons about the importance of bees and other pollinators. Without them, we would lose 35% of our food supply and up to 80% of all flowering plants!
Greenfield Bee Fest’s organizers believe that now is the time to learn more about what each of us can do to invite and encourage pollinators in our communities, as decline in the bee population has become an urgent worldwide problem. Bee Fest activities promote caring for our environment, reducing pesticides, and increasing pollinator habitats.
The annual “Bee Space” garden awards, presented by the Franklin County Beekeeper’s Association, recognize efforts to establish both public and private pollinator-friendly habitats.
By distributing free seeds and seedlings, Bee Fest helps people create flower and vegetable gardens at home.
Local beekeepers offer guidance on the set-up and maintenance of honeybee hives, just like the one Lorenzo Langstroth invented in the mid-1800s.
In 2017, a group of Slovenian beekeepers, hearing about Greenfield Bee Fest, came to visit Second Congregational Church. Slovenia, a small country wedged between Italy, Austria, and Croatia, is a model of bee culture where one in every 200 citizens is a beekeeper. The group was awed to tread where Langstroth had lived and invented, published and preached. This same group went on to create United Nations World Bee Day in 2018, now celebrated annually on May 20th. We believe Reverend Langstroth would be pleased. He would agree with our Greenfield Bee Fest philosophy, that caring for the environment is part of a spiritual practice of caring for humanity and creation.
We are delighted to keep Reverend Langstroth’s rich legacy alive as we celebrate Greenfield Bee Fest today. Come join us!
WHY BEE FEST
Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth, the “Father of American Beekeeping,” was pastor at Second Congregational Church in Greenfield Massachusetts from 1843 to 1848. This “citizen scientist” invented and patented the modern moveable frame beehive in 1852. Langstroth’s design, based on his discovery of “bee space,” is still in use worldwide. He also wrote the first beekeeping manual, Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee, which was printed next door to the church the following year, and is now in its 40th edition.
Second Congregational Church has enjoyed a vibrant community presence on Greenfield’s historic New England town common since 1817. Starting in 2010, the year of Langstroth’s 200th birthday, the church launched its first Bee Fest, which has continued each spring to raise awareness of the current plight of honeybees.
Honeybees are responsible for one third of the food we eat, especially vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Yet, their very existence is threated by shortsighted human practices, such as habitat destruction and pesticide use. At Greenfield Bee Fest, adults and kids alike enjoy free Bee Fest activities, performances, lectures, honey-tastings, displays, and art installations while learning about the importance of honeybees and how to help them and other pollinators thrive into the future.
Over the years, Greenfield Bee Fest has evolved into a city-wide event involving the arts and business community, city government, environmental scientists, and others. After taking a pause in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival is coming back in 2021 with the unveiling of six large downtown bee sculptures; the roll-out of a GPS-guided self-tour of Greenfield’s bee-related sights, history, and initiatives; restaurant offerings of various honey specialties; art gallery presentations, and more!
CELEBRATING LORENZO LANGSTROTH
Scholar, teacher, minister, and pioneering scientist, Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895) is known as “The Father of American Beekeeping.” His careful observations of bees led to the discovery of “bee space,” that tiny 5/16th to 6/16th inch space a bee needs to move about inside its hive. Using this information, Langstroth designed and patented his revolutionary moveable frame beehive. He then went on to write the first manual for beekeepers, Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee. The contributions Langstroth made to apiary science forever changed practices around the production of honey and the pollination of food crops.
Development of the “Langstroth Hive”
Reverend Langstroth’s subsequent interest in honeybees began with the purchase of a swarm inside a section of hollow log. Yet, bee culture information in his time was sparse. One “expert” even doubted the existence of a queen! To remove honey, the entire hive had to be destroyed. Finding himself fascinated, if frustrated, Langstroth began formulating plans for a hive that could be taken apart and monitored closely. He tried various iterations of previous hives, including bars and slats, but found none of them satisfactory. The problem for such hives was their tendency to become immovably clogged with adhered comb material.
At last, Langstroth conceived of surrounding each comb with a frame of wood, completely detached from the walls of the hive. All points, except for supports, left properly sized “bee space” through which the bees could pass. He completed his invention at the age of 41 and received a U.S. patent on October 5, 1852. Langstroth had resigned from his Greenfield pastorate in 1848 due to ill health, and he had moved back to Philadelphia. But he returned now to Greenfield to live with his sister Margaretta and her husband Almon Brainard, in the building where the girls’ school had been located, adjacent to his former church.
Evolution of a “Citizen Scientist”
Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Christmas Day, 1810. From an early age, he showed interest in studying insects, but his practical parents discouraged this pursuit. He attended Yale, where he tutored fellow students in mathematics, and he graduated in 1831. After completing his theological studies at Andover Seminary, Langstroth became pastor at Second Congregational Church of Andover in 1836. Four years later, he moved with his wife, Mrs. Anne Tucker Langstroth, to Greenfield, Massachusetts, where he became the first principal of the High School for Young Ladies. This school was located on Bank Row in what is now McCarthy Funeral Home, next door to Second Congregational Church, where Langstroth assumed pastorship in 1843.
Beekeeping for All
While back in Greenfield, serving as a part-time traveling minister, Reverend Langstroth wrote his famous beekeeping manual. He sent pages as they were completed back to his wife in Philadelphia, where she transcribed them into legible copy. Funds advanced from his brother-in-law allowed the first edition of Langstroth on the Hive and the Honey-Bee to be published in May of 1853 by Hopkins, Bridgman, and Company of Northampton. Printing was done by Charles A. Mirick at his office on Newton Place in Greenfield, located on the opposite side of Second Church, current site of City Hall. Langstroth’s practical and informative manual describes the physiology and habits of honeybees, as well as the principles of handling and managing hives. Renowned as the “Beekeeper’s Bible,” it became an instant worldwide classic. The combination of the Langstroth Hive and this enthusiastic, accessible volume led to a revolution in honey production. Today, in its 40th edition, Langstroth’s advice is still relevant, and a delight to read. And the hives Langstroth designed are the most commonly used hives across the globe.
In 1858, Reverend Langstroth moved to Oxford, Ohio, where he established his “Honey Farm” of nearly 125 hives on ten acres, at Langstroth Cottage, now a National Historic Landmark. He devoted almost thirty more years of his life to furthering knowledge of bees and beekeeping. Of his success it has been said, “He sowed, others reaped.” Even though most hives in use today have been derived from Langstroth’s design, he never experienced financial security. The hive was immediately in enormous demand, and simply too easy to copy. Still, Langstroth was, and is, honored all over the world for his invaluable contributions to apicultural science. In 2007, he was recognized as one of history’s greatest innovators, and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Virginia.
Reverend Langstroth moved to Dayton, Ohio in 1887 to live with his daughter, Mrs. Harriet Cowan, and to preach at the Wayne Avenue Baptist Church. Eight years later, at age eighty-four, Langstroth passed away after delivering a sermon on “The Love of God.” As a newspaper reported at the time, “His last words were a fitting termination to one of the most exemplary and useful lives this world ever produced. “
The Langstroth Monument, Exhibits, and Honorariums
In Greenfield, Massachusetts, a stone monument honoring Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth stands in the side yard of Second Congregational Church, adjacent to the Town Common. Here in 1948, fifty-three years after Langstroth’s passing, renowned American apiculturist E. F. Phillips spoke these words at its dedication:
“We beekeepers, who today place the testimonial to Langstroth at this church, cannot remain in Greenfield to keep his memory green. We ask the people of Greenfield to come to our aid. It is the hope of every beekeeper here present that our tribute may bring greater honor to his memory. Many people are good, but few are great. Langstroth qualifies on both counts. We ask the people of Greenfield not to forget Lorenzo Langstroth, a man worthy of high esteem, a good man who did much to make this community a better one, a man whose spirit was lofty, and a simple, gracious man whose affection for mankind was ever manifest.”
Inside Second Congregational Church, in the Narthex, the permanent “Langstroth Nook” exhibit traces Reverend Langstroth’s life and contributions. A public “pocket park,” directly across Bank Row from the church, displays informative signboards and a model of Langstroth’s original hive. Other Langstroth displays and information can be found at the Greenfield Historical Society and throughout the downtown.
Each spring, as they have since Reverend Langstroth’s 200th birthday year in 2010, members of his former church offer Greenfield Bee Fest to the larger community. In this way, the members of Second Congregational Church continue to honor their pioneering pastor, and to promote the cause of the honeybee which was so dear to his heart.