David Stucky scratches behind his cat, Lucy’s ear. His pants are covered in dirt, paint, and grass as he takes a deep breath of the warm, spring air.
The sound of buzzing in every corner of the garden signals the coming of spring. Stucky bends down to the dirt beds at his feet, stroking his thick goatee with one hand. His eye catches something on the plant in front of him and he smiles to himself as if no one else is here but him.
“Hey, little fella,” he says, leaning in closer with an outstretched hand.
Into his palm crawls a bee.
Stucky, 50, started the Amazon Bee Co-op about three years ago in order to teach the Amazon neighborhood how crucial bees are to agriculture as well as how to be sensitive to an environment that bees are so dependent on.
Stucky believes that more people should experience the benefits of these calming creatures, as there is no better way to relax than napping by a hive, he says. Here, he listens to sound of buzzing and smells the indescribable scent of “bee breeze,” the moist air that bees push out of the hive as the pollen dries.
He watches the bee fly off of his hand and follows it to the hives in the center of his garden. The “gentle little creatures” zoom in and out of the plants, bringing in pollen to keep the members of their colony healthy and happy. However, if a bee brings in pollen that has any pesticides on it, their population will suffer greatly and consequently, they can’t pollinate as many plants.
“It’s a really scary situation because bees are agriculturally very, very important to say nothing of being amazing creatures,” Stucky says. “If we lose bees, which is a real possibility at this point, it’ll really affect the way we eat and our food supply.”
In his backyard on 26th and Harris Street, the bees have created a sense of community in which four or five households regularly gather to contribute compost, buzz about the garden, or just to enjoy the final product, Stucky says.
“I’ve met so many people coming through the garden—it’s really a nice thing,” he says. “It makes people happy; it’s fun to share.”
Stucky’s parents both came from farming families and had kept gardens as long as he can remember throughout his childhood in Illinois. After graduating from the University of New Mexico, he traveled around Latin America and its agrarian population for three years, sparking his love for gardening once again.
Stucky became hooked on the Eugene gardening lifestyle after moving here for his ex-wife’s graduate program at the University of Oregon 20 years ago.
“If you just slow down to pay attention, you see so much cool stuff,” he says. “It’s like a very, very slow motion video game in a way.””
Stucky has always played this type of outdoor “video game” to satisfy his fascination with bees, even catching them in jars when he was young to watch them more closely. His move to Eugene finally allowed him to overlook his lack of yard space and he built his own hives on his flattop garage roof.
20 years and 40,000 bees later, he still finds solace in being in his garden to nap or munch on plants that he’s harvesting in his “food forest.”
“This was all like grass when we started,” he says of his current garden. “We just took it apart grass piece by grass piece and converted it almost all to food.”
He now cans about 500 pounds of food a year and his garden is almost completely self-sufficient, with each crop growing back year after year and learning to take care of itself. Although Stucky’s job as a process consultant requires him to travel more than he would like, he tries to spend as much time as possible at home and outside, looking towards his dream of having dairy animals, grain plants, and more bees.
Stucky walks along the broken-stone path and munches on vegetables as his six chickens squawk from the corner. Carefully, Stucky steps over the main compost piles that are overflowing with donated coffee grounds and eggs shells. He looks at his mother and son as they chat on the stoop of the porch.
Whitey Lueck, a good friend of Stucky’s, has lived with his family just two blocks away since 1983. Lueck has also kept a garden ever since he was young and hopes that more people come by his home to see what gardening has to offer.
His “normal and natural” approach to life provides him with food as well as the psychological and physical benefits of relaxation and accomplishment.
“The most important thing I can do is set an example and people can pick and choose what they follow,” he says. “It becomes a selling point for people to see how to live like this.”
The two friends want to build up the population of farmers in this area by making gardens a more permanent feature in the Amazon neighborhood and the lifestyles of its residents.
With this in mind, Stucky tries to plant more variety each year to get to know what works well with the climate and what he can count on to stay healthy and continue growing in the future without as much upkeep.
“I’ll be an old guy someday and I’ll need to figure out smarter ways to work, not harder ways,” Stucky says. “I got 20 years, or maybe 10 years, you know, every year gets a little easier, so we’ll see.”
As he gazes out at his garden, a group of familiar four-year-olds skips by and peers through the fence, pointing to the hives. A smile grows on Stucky’s face and he gives them a wave as they scamper off giggling.
“It absolutely tickles me to see them to see them enjoying the bees like that,” Stucky says. “It’s just magic.”