When Greg Strickland realized four years ago that the lackluster gardens at the Vi at Highlands Ranch senior-living community might need more pollinators, he jumped into beekeeping with both feet.
The executive chef, who’s been with Vi since it opened in 2008, started with one and now maintains six rooftop hives at the upscale community off of South University Boulevard.
“It’s been an adventure, I’ll tell you,” said Strickland, who incorporates the honey into Vi’s menu items. The sweet liquid is also put into jars and sold at Vi’s annual farmers market.
Strickland, who’s been cooking for over 30 years, said he’s always striving to improve Vi’s culinary program. When he can, he offers specials that utilize the community’s produce such as pesto from the kitchen garden’s abundance of basil or salads that use their homegrown cherry tomatoes. But his efforts go beyond enticing the palate.
“Chefs should all strive to be more connected to their food and more connected to their residents and their guests,” Strickland said.
His bees fit into Vi’s “living well” approach to life, which focuses on the minds, bodies and spirits of residents, said Angela Owens, lifestyle director at Vi. In addition to helping people eat healthily, residents have enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the bees.
Strickland gives lectures about the winged insects’ role and their struggles in our modern environment. Sensitive to certain chemicals and subject to colony collapse syndrome, they are canaries in the coal mine, he says, and he is happy to talk about them with residents.
“There’s always a buzz around the bees,” Owens said. “Residents are really excited about the bees, and it adds value to our community.”
In addition to Strickland’s culinary garden, some residents care for their own garden plots at Vi. Others peruse the facility’s communal memory garden. All the gardens — and the residents who enjoy them — have benefited from the bees, Owens said.
Strickland not only creates breakfast, lunch and dinner options for Vi’s 300 residents, he also provides fun food events outside of mealtime. The activities offered by the chef are some of Vi’s best attended programs, Owens said. Over 75 residents, for example, recently attended a wine and food pairing event he hosted.
The chef’s newest plan involves opening a nanobrewery at Vi next year that uses the community’s honey and possibly their own hops. Over a dozen residents, many of them former homebrewers, have expressed an interest in working on the project with him.
“Our residents bring a lot to the table,” Strickland said. “They were very creative people before they came here and, of course, that didn’t end there. They’re very creative, and they like to get involved with what we’re doing.”
When it comes to bees, involvement can go beyond Vi as far as Strickland’s concerned. He’d love to see everybody who has the opportunity to give beekeeping a try.
While bees are more work than a cat, they’re less work than a dog, he said, and they don’t take a lot of space. During the peak season, Strickland spends about three hours a week on the six hives at Vi. He also keeps a hive in his own backyard in Highlands Ranch.
“These little creatures are very much responsible for a lot of the lifestyle that we have, the availability of food that we have,” Strickland said. “… They’re facing a lot more challenges than they were even 10 to 20 years ago. It’s definitely something to pay attention to.”