"It's like crack."
That's how Andrew Cote describes his obsession with beekeeping, a career that keeps him buzzing from the heights of Manhattan's most famous rooftops to the far reaches of the African bush.
As a founder of the New York City Beekeepers Association, Cote helped legalize beekeeping in the city, working with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to develop a best-practices guide for tending hives in the five boroughs. The NYCBA's mission is to promote safe and responsible beekeeping - an important task at a time when bees are disappearing from parts of the planet.
"Particularly in an urban environment," he explains, "people need to be very, very good stewards of their bees. They need to tend to them well, inspect them regularly, make sure that they have room to grow and that they're not going to swarm."
Of course, when New York City bees do swarm, Cote is the NYPD's go-to bee guy. This spring alone, he's been called to wrangle swarms in Staten Island, Harlem, Queens and on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.
When he's not rescuing rogue hives from traffic lights and lamp posts, Cote serves as an urban beekeeping consultant to hotels, restaurants, schools and community gardens throughout New York City. Just last month he installed six hives atop of the Waldorf-Astoria, the first phase in the hotel's new chef's garden, and two hives at the Bridge Café, a restaurant nestled in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.
"Many, many business have approached me to put bees on their roofs," he says. "But I only work with those whom I feel truly embrace the concept of wanting to be greener, wanting to help the environment. And bees seem to be a very good way to do that."
But city bees aren't just for trendy Manhattan hot spots. Cote also sells 3-pound packages to environmentally minded enthusiasts eager to start a hive of their own. That's right -- packages of bees, each containing some 20,000 sentient creatures trucked up from Georgia. Sold off the back of his truck in Manhattan's Union Square, or from his front yard of what he calls Connecticut's smallest farm, Cote estimates he'll distribute some 8 million bees this year.
Between his private clients, his work with the NYCBA and extracting and selling honey from his own hives, Cote keeps busy from the first signs of spring until the last leaves have dropped in the fall.
Even in winter, when some might take a break, Cote continues to feed his obsession with Bees Without Borders, a charitable organization teaching beekeeping as a means to alleviate poverty in third-world countries. Traveling with his father, Norman Cote, Andrew and the Bees Without Borders team have hit some 25 countries to date, including their most recent trip to Kenya where they worked with the local Samburu tribe.
"I don't want to jinx anything," Cote says, "but you're looking at a content man. I have my bees in the city. I have my bees in the country. I get to spend time with my family and it's good. Life is good."