As an eighth-grader settling into a new neighborhood two years ago, Cayden Ebright asked a neighbor if he had any work available, telling him that he wanted to earn extra money.
From that simple encounter grew the story of an unusual hobby and an uplifting friendship. The neighbor, 74-year-old retiree Stan Frick, became a mentor to Cayden, helping nurture the teenager’s foray into beekeeping.
Although he’s only 15-years-old, Cayden has taken the hobby to a higher level. After completing a nine-week course through the local agriculture center, he scored a 98 on a 100-question test administered by the North Carolina Beekeepers Association, passed a field exam, and became one of the youngest certified beekeepers in the state.
Stan, meanwhile, began beekeeping a decade ago when a friend with an exterminating business encouraged him to give it a try as a way to save the honeybee hives he was regularly asked to remove. He now tends as many of 30 hives of his own, while Cayden maintains three, and assists Stan with his hives.
Cayden’s beekeeping caught the attention of CNN last year during a summer camp he attended, and a film crew documented his time at the camp and came to his home in Harrisburg late last summer, producing a segment that aired on the cable network.
He also started his own honey business around the same time. He purchases honey from Stan and sells pint jars of the locally produced product. Steady revenue from his Harrisburg Honey Co. helps make the hobby self-sustaining as a local business, Harrisburg Hardware, sells the honey for the budding entrepreneur.
“Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from this is from keeping up with the amount of honey I have at the store, managing inventory,” says Cayden. “That is important, and so is making sure I have enough equipment year-round to make sure the bees grow so that they don’t swarm.”
During early spring, a swarm of honeybees, about the size of a football, gathered on a bush in front of the Cothren home. A quick phone call to Abigail Carriker, who teaches agriculture and horticulture classes at Hickory Ridge, led to a call to Cayden. Less than 90 minutes after my wife spotted the swarm, Cayden and Stan were leaving with the bees, having captured them in a matter of minutes.
The two had a natural rapport, working together to remove the bees and explaining how they were capturing the queen to ensure the hive’s removal. It was obvious they were used to one another’s company, with a level of mutual respect, like that of a grandfather to a grandson, although they are not related.
“I would say we have a good relationship,” says Cayden. “I often go to his house and just hang out, helping him with things.
“He teaches me something new every day, like how to sharpen a chainsaw or doing different things with different tools. I’m learning about tools and how to use them properly.”
Beekeeping is not an easy hobby, Cayden says. Hives must be checked regularly, and Varroa mites must be dealt with so that bees don’t fall victim to the destructive pests. Apiculture (the tending of bee colonies) is a hobby that demands one’s attention and the ability to solve problems.
“As far as the amount of work, you think it would be easier,” says Cayden, “but there’s a lot of work involved.”
Stan points out an article in “Bee Culture,” a leading industry magazine, that touts the benefits of beekeeping, particularly the boost that the hobby can give to a college application. With college admissions getting more and more competitive, the article maintains that beekeeping and the diverse skills required can give an edge to applicants.
Cayden, the son of Scott and Amanda Ebright of Harrisburg, plans to attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy upon graduation from high school.
“Cayden is future-oriented,” says Stan, a Vietnam veteran who retired as a sergeant major in the Army. “Colleges look at beekeeping as a higher level of extracurricular activities. You have to know the weather, pesticides, biology, botany, pollination, nutrition, bee diseases, and it just goes on and on. There is a wide knowledge base that you have to have.”
Currently, Stan is teaching the craft to a father and his 9-year-old son. An active hobbyist with multiple interests, he also is a dedicated woodworker, giving yet another angle to the friendship he and Cayden have developed.
“He’s always busy growing his mind,” Stan says of Cayden, an A student set to enter his sophomore year at Hickory Ridge High School. “He’s not going to be sitting around, I can tell you that.”
Larry Cothren is a marketing teacher and can be reached at email@example.com.