“You use Roundup to make your lawn pretty? You’re contributing to killing my bees. OK? The vanity of humanity is destroying our environment.”
Chances are, if you encounter a smiling, black-haired guy in jeans and a white medical coat asking if you want a beehive in your back yard, it’s probably Reg Foo
That’s what a reporter found upon arrival at the Governor’s Mansion in Denver, where Foo tends a hive on the property near the corner of 6th Avenue and Pennsylvania Street. In 2015, Foo talked former governor John Hickenlooper
into letting him put it there, part of Foo’s calling to restore bees to the ecosystem one hive at a time.
He makes his own honey through the Sooky Foo Honey Company, but his vision is much larger. “My job is to spread the word about how important honeybees and pollinators are. It’s amazing,” he says, warming to his subject. “You know, for thousands of years honey has been used as an antiseptic, antibiotic, food, super food. It has so many different uses.”
Honeybees, like many insects, are in jeopardy. Unusually high numbers have been dying in this century, and a scientific peer-reviewed research paper published in February in Biological Conservation magazine reports that more than 40 percent of insect species are now threatened with extinction. At the same time, scientists are learning new things about bees and how they live. A study released this year suggests that bees can learn to add and subtract if taught to do so. Another found that bees communicate through their pheromones, but also through a movement called a “waggle dance” that helps form hives.
Industrial agriculture, climate change, and pesticides are all contributing to the decline. Foo says too many Americans use pesticides just to make their yards look a certain way, with little thought for the consequences. “We are living in a time where we’re being inundated with poisons and toxins. The bees are dying because of that,” Foo says. “You use Roundup to make your lawn pretty? You’re contributing to killing my bees. OK? The vanity of humanity is destroying our environment.”
Though he’s angry, Foo is also an optimist and focused on solutions. One part of that effort is to add hives. “I’ve got bees in my vehicle right now,” he says. Though the exact number is a secret, he’s installed dozens around town. He just negotiated a deal with the owners of Argonaut Wine & Liquor on East Colfax Avenue, one of the city’s largest alcohol distributors, to put 20 hives on the building’s roof.
He understands peoples’ skepticism about bees. “You have to go around and ask people for permission, you know, and a lot of people aren’t keen about that,” he admits. “I’ve gone around with literally thousands of bees in my car, knocking on doors saying, ‘Hey, do you want to help the environment? Do you want to put a hive on your property? You’ll get free honey.’ And they’re like, ‘What do I have to do?’ And the answer is nothing. I do everything.”
Foo grew up in New York and northern New Jersey. “You ever see that show, The Sopranos?” he asks. “I grew up in that area, and it was an interesting time. I made the best of it, being a minority, mixed guy, you know Indian, Chinese, black, and English. I’m Catholic, and I can curse in multiple languages.”
After his father died of cancer, the family moved to Florida, but Foo returned to Philadelphia to attend St. Joseph’s University, where he studied politics long enough to know he wasn’t going in that direction. “I’d rather be stung,” he laughs. Foo spent 2004–2007 as a United States Army Sniper and left as a Specialist. Then he came to Denver and ran a workout studio for a year.
“I’m not important. It’s about the bees, man. It’s all about the bees."
A few months before he closed the studio, he was sitting in his apartment in Capitol Hill when the muse struck. “I was eating honey, and I just thought of thought of how cool it would be to have, you know, a honey business. I just went from there.”
He spent a full year studying everything he could find on bees before beginning to raise his own. He still reads voraciously on the subject, but now his research also includes a hands-on study of his hives and how they work. He has an invention that will be beneficial to beekeeping. “To understand the animals, just watch them do exactly what they do,” he says.
He doesn’t use it himself, but after his Army stint, he’s in full support of medical marijuana. “Being a vet, I saw my own buddies getting addicted to opioids because they kept on prescribing them like candy.” To that end, he’s working to mix his honey with cannabis for natural products. “It’s like creating beautiful medicine, you know, and I want to be a part of that.”
An urban farmer who likes fresh produce, eggs, and organic products, Foo is living his dream. “I feel as though that I can become anything that I want,” he says. “I have a commando-type personality, and if you want to get things done, you got to get it done. You know, work hard. You will never know unless you try.”
But he cautions about this being about him. “I have to promote me and talk because I want to spread the word about bees,” he admits. “But I’m not important. Who cares about Reg Foo? It’s about the bees, man. It’s all about the bees. I’m so attached to my business that I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t beekeep.”