Michelle Obama Goes Organic and Brings in the Bees

Charlie Brandts, the White House carpenter, is now the First Beekeeper.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

Going organic in the White House was easy. Both Bubba's and W's kitchens did that with purchases from local farms and a nearby organic market. But homegrown fare, like what first lady Michelle Obama hopes to produce with her new spring vegetable garden on the South Lawn—now, that's more complicated. And not just because crops have to be planted and tended. Washington isn't really known for its population of honeybees, the buzzy bugs needed for pollination. So—you guessed it—the first-ever White House beehive has been installed.

Charlie Brandts, a White House carpenter for 25 years, is now the First Beekeeper. He got the ball rolling when he told some of the East Wing staff about his hobby. "I was thinking about how cool it would be to bring bees to the White House," Brandts says. Word made it to chef Sam Kass, who asked Brandts if he could make White House honey to use in Obama family recipes. On Tuesday, Brandts brought in one of his hives and put it near the garden.

While he's been in beekeeping for only three years, Brandts sounds like a longtime pro. "I'm trying to promote beekeeping," he tells Whispers. He started raising bees for the same reason the first lady dug her garden: "I wanted to eat healthier," he says. That meant shifting from sugar to honey. "But it kind of gets expensive," he says, "and I thought it can't be too hard to put together a few hives in my yard" in nearby Fairland, Md.

While the hive has been welcomed by the first family, Brandts concedes that some workers had to be convinced that honeybees are largely harmless. (Ironically, it was some of the security staff who worried about getting stung.) As with many people with access to hives, the first family might get hooked on bees, and Brandts hopes to bring more hives in. "And if they don't like them, we can always take them out."

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR

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