It’s important to understand that there is a continuum of approaches to beekeeping. Although this list is far from complete, and there is a blurring of lines between each type of approach, here are just some of the places where beekeepers can land on this spectrum. This list is in no way comprehensive.
Commercial/Migratory Beekeeper Motivations may include: profits. Profit centers may include: pollination services, honey production and related products, selling bees.
Commercial, Non-Migratory Beekeeper Motivations may include: profits. Profit centers may include: honey production and related products, selling bees, writing and teaching.
Conventional Side-Line Beekeeper Motivations may include: side-line profits from honey and related products, hobby aspect.
Conventional Hobbyist Beekeeper Motivations may include: hobby aspect, personal honey and related products. Beekeepers in this category may sometimes be a little “geeky.” They often like the gadgets and tend to be more invasive or hands-on in their beekeeping. And, they can tend to view beekeeping as an on-going science experiment.
Natural Hobbyist Beekeeper Motivations may include: treatment-free hobby aspect, personal honey and products. Beekeepers in this category tend to be less invasive and often combine their beekeeping with organic gardening, permaculture, and/or tending orchards.
Bee-Centered Beekeeper Motivations may include: Raising social awareness of agricultural and personal practices that are decimating pollinators, treatment-free hobby aspect, personal honey and related products. Bee-centered beekeepers tend to be less invasive; more respectful and trusting of the honey bees’ own intelligence and ability to care for themselves; and often have the goal of creating an ecotype – a genetically distinct geographic variety, population or race within a species, which is adapted to specific environmental conditions. Bee-centered beekeepers may have the long-term goal of encouraging these ecotypes to swarm and thus re-populate their region with locally adapted honey bees that can survive in the wild.
Preservationist Beekeeper Motivations may include: Providing the most natural life experience for the bees that they can. This would include the hive cavity, the habitat surrounding the hive, and their co-existence with the bees.
Relational Bee Person Motivations may include: Gaining a deeper understanding of the life and needs of the honey bees themselves, so that this person can work to provide the bees with what they need on that little portion of the earth over which this person has influence. And, to simply live in harmonious relationship with the bees.
Re-Wilder Motivations may include: Helping honey bees to return to their wildness; successfully surviving, thriving, and multiplying in the wild.
In my opinion, regardless of where you may choose to land on this continuum, it’s important to be careful to not “demonize” beekeepers/stewards who have landed in other spots on this spectrum. There is a common denominator that unifies us all: we all want our honey bees to live. It is that very deep, heart-felt desire that can cause beekeepers of all varieties to be very passionate, and sometimes even very dogmatic, about the approach to beekeeping that they’ve chosen.
In addition, there are approaches on this continuum that simply cannot be compared to other approaches. A conventional, migratory beekeeper is as different from a bee-centered beekeeper as a builder of high-rise apartment complexes is different from someone who builds tiny houses. Each may be equally valid, valuable, and needed, within the context of their own role in the world, but they cannot be compared in any meaningful way. They are not just apples and oranges, they are apple crates and oranges.