Emmons is the chief beekeeper and director of business development for Brooklyn Grange, which runs a rooftop farm in Long Island City.
He grew up in an apartment in Greenwich Village, where he still lives three days out of the week, and went to Bronx Science High School. Emmons went on to Ithaca College for a year, and then left to become one of the original founders of the Princeton Review college preparation program.
“The great thing is I made my fortune, so to speak, on prepping kids to go to college and I never got a [Bachelor’s degree] myself,” Emmons said.
In 2002, his friend, who is one of the founders of Burton snowboards, invited him to Massachusetts to have a look at his beehives.
“My response was, ‘what’s wrong with you, stinging insects, are you nuts?’” Emmons said.
However, he soon fell in love with the ways of the bee colony, which he said reminded him of the computers he built as a technology-nerd when he was growing up.
“The whole operating of a colony was very much like a computer in a way,” Emmons said. “You kind of build this hive for these creatures that will just do all this work for you, and happily so.”
Emmons now has 10 hives on his farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts, where he spends four days of the week, four hives at the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm, and one on the roof of BoBo’s restaurant in Greenwich Village. New York City legalized beekeeping in May 2010, he said, and since then its popularity has skyrocketed.
In addition to providing delicious honey to eat, beekeeping allows people to transcend cultures that date as far back as the previous millennium, he said. It also provides a socializing opportunity, as keepers get together in groups and clubs to discuss their honey-harvesting tactics. For example, Emmons is now a member of the Backwards Beekeepers club in New York City.
“I’ve made like 30 different friends that I would’ve never had any chance to meet let alone be friends with,” he said, “simply because of beekeeping in the city.”
New York City honey sells at between $20 and $40 a pound, making it Brooklyn Grange’s most profitable commodity. One hive can produce more than 50 pounds of honey in a season, Emmons said.
However, he said, “The biggest impact [of beekeeping] is it just helps people to open their eyes to the whole food system, how the system works and what they’re putting in their mouths.”
“I was that person who was completely shielded and separated, food just appeared in the supermarket and then appeared on my table,” Emmons said.
Emmons is hosting a Honey Festival in Rockaway Beach on Saturday, September 17, from 10 a.m. to sundown. For more information on the festival, visit Nychoneyfest.com.