Martin Schäfer’s interest in bees began after casualconversations about beekeeping with his Magna colleagueGünter Rühle, a chief engineer.
Schäfer received his first bee colony from Rühle in 2013,and his interest in bees blossomed.
“At the beginning, you have bees; but very soon, they haveyou,” said Schäfer, who works for Magna Powertrain inUntergruppenbach, Germany as a senior account managerof sales for transmission systems.
In his spare time, he tends to about 30 beehives at threelocations near his home in Oberstenfeld, and runs a smallbusiness that sells honey, beeswax candles and meadmade from honey at local marts and online.
His love of bees is apparent in his blog, where he writes:“Our focus is on the careful and respectful handling ofbees.”
Schäfer also is a member of the leadership team of a localbeekeeper association, and volunteers at a nearby school,where he has helped to set up six beehives in order tospread the importance and knowledge of beekeeping tothe next generation.
“Bees are interesting creatures,” Schäfer said. “You shouldthink of a bee colony as one organism or community. It hasits own attitude and character. One colony is different inhow it behaves and reacts. They are so fascinating that Iwill never stop beekeeping until I am no longer able to doit. It’s not a hobby for a few years, it is that important. Thebenefit the bees bring to our environment is pollination.”
Or, as one entry in his blog puts it: “No Bees, No Honey, NoWork, No Money.”
Schäfer describes himself as an environmentalist who isbringing “his little contribution to save the environment.”
He added: “What we do at Magna with dual-clutchtransmission technology also has an environmental aspect.These transmission systems are a good way to reduce CO2emissions.”
Beekeeping has other benefits, too.
“Beekeeping is a great balance to the daily business workin sales,” Schäfer said. “Beekeeping is my way to relax.”
Bees are interesting creatures, You should think ofa bee colony as one organism or community. It hasits own attitude and character. One colony isdifferent in how it behaves and reacts. They are sofascinating that I will never stop beekeeping until Iam no longer able to do it. It’s not a hobby for afew years, it is that important.
A Special Bond with Bees
Rhiannon LaForest pulls on a knit cap, jacketand flowered Wellington boots, and stridesdown the hill in her Troy, Michigan backyardto check on her family’s two beehives.
The 40,000+ honeybees are nestled ininsulated hives in preparation for winter;LaForest occasionally will supplement theirdiet with sugar patties throughout thecolder seasons. A third hive for native bees ishung on a nearby tree, along with a sign thatreads: Caution, Honey Bees Hard at Work.Do Not Disturb.”
As the senior director of marketing andcommunications for Magna Powertrain,LaForest’s workday includes promoting thecompany’s green offerings, such as 48-volttechnologies and hybrid transmissions.
But she is also committed to theenvironment outside of work, dedicating hertime to nurturing and protecting bees, animportant part of the ecosystem.
Her husband Brian, a police officer, and herfive-year-old daughter Sarah, are just asenthusiastic about the new hobby. They allhave their own beekeeping outfits, includinga miniature one for Sarah with a protectiveveil.
“We started doing it because we thought itwould be a little bit of fun, and we were veryexcited about the honey,” LaForest said. “Butthe more we learned, the more we realizedthat we could have an impact on theenvironment. By just keeping a couple ofbeehives we can contribute to our localenvironment and ecosystem by pollinatingall the flowers nearby – and even further. Thebees will fly up to three miles to collectnectar and pollen.
“We started small with two hives and willextend that to three next year, and more inthe future. But right now, we’re still learningand developing our skills.”
LaForest and her husband attended acourse on bees last March, walking out withequipment that included the hives, twoqueens and approximately 120,000 bees.Then they spent time in England last Maywith LaForest’s uncle, Jonathan Baynes, aBritish bee expert who inspects hives fordiseases and advises beekeepers in othercountries, too.
“My uncle has more than 20 hives and a realrelationship with his bees,” said LaForest,who grew up on a fruit farm in Kent,England. “He taught us to look for the signs.Are the bees healthy? Are they agitated? Isthe queen laying eggs?”
Folklore encourages the special bondbetween humans and bees; somebeekeepers in Europe give their bees writtencontracts, promising to provide shelter andcare in return for wax and honey.
The LaForests haven’t gone that far, butBrian plays music near the hives when he isdoing an inspection, and the whole familycommonly refers to the bees as their “girls.”
The honeybees appear to be thriving. Thefamily harvested 120 pounds of honey lastsummer. As LaForest presses a jar ofLaForest Family Honey into a visitor’s handshe says: “It’s really good. You can taste theflowers.”
Rhiannon LaForest, Senior director of marketingand communications for Magna Powertrain
The Magna Beekeeping Project:Linking Bees and Industry
In spring 2020, employees in 10 Magnadivisions in Austria and Germany beganparticipation in an ambitious project toprotect and increase the bee population inEurope.
They are part of Project 2028, which waslaunched by Hektar Nektar, a Viennesestart-up that brings together companiesand beekeepers in an effort to increase thebee population by 10 percent in Germanyand Austria by 2028.
Participating Magna divisions get a colonyof bees, the dwelling, accessories andtechnical literature. As Hektar Nektarexplains: “Without bees, we humans are notviable.”
Magna’s support for Hektar Nektar beganin 2019, with all corporate Magnaemployees receiving honey as holiday gifts.
“Gerald Harzl, Magna’s vice president forhuman resources in Europe, suggested thebeekeeping project,” explained Silvia Jöbstl,Magna senior manager for environmentalhealth and safety in Europe. “We areworking in the technical automotiveindustry, but we’re part of nature and thecircle of life.”
She added: “Beekeeping is a great startingpoint. If we want to eat an apple from a treein the areas where we work in the future, itis essential to have bees doing their job.”
While she’s not a beekeeper, Jöbstl is anature lover who spends her holidaysbackpacking in Peru, Bolivia and otherplaces.
“Patagonia was one of the most wonderfulplaces I’ve been,” she said, referring to thesparsely populated region at the southernend of South America that some call thegreatest hiking destination in the world.“You have the mountains and the glaciers.It’s really impressive. And it also connects tomy professional work and the importanceof being in nature.”
The Magna beekeeping project will beclosely monitored.
“It may expand,” Jöbstl said. “In the longterm, we may do this globally.”
Silvia Jöbstl, Magna senior manager for environmentalhealth and safety in Europe, during her visit to Patagonia