Whether you care deeply about preserving our environment or just love honey, Culpeper shop and bee sanctuary La Bee Da Loca is an essential destination.
Tucked away in the quiet mountain town that is Culpeper, Virginia, you’ll find their very own version of Main Street. It looks every bit the postcard scene trapped in time, filled with local shops and locals enjoying the feeling of time slowing down for a moment. But look closer — something very special is hidden further down on this street, in a blink-and-you-might-miss-it kind of way.
Culpeper’s own bee sanctuary and bee-related shop, La Bee Da Loca, is owned and operated by local beekeeper Felecia Chavez. Chavez has long been a curious fan of nature, but it wasn’t until after she left the military as a member of the Red Cross that she decided to take a detour and do things her way.
“I saw what pesticides do to people, to our water, [and] I became an advocate at that time,” said Chavez. “If we don’t take care of Mother Earth, we’re going to be in sorry shape.”
Chavez’s personality and love of life is simply infectious – if you couldn’t already tell from the pun in the shop’s name. She struggled for a minute trying to figure out what to name the shop and sanctuary until her son, who is a tattoo artist in Fredericksburg and actually designed the logo himself, thought of it almost immediately.
“I said, ‘This is what I want to do’ and I need to find a name, a name that is going to get people to pay attention,” said Chavez. “My youngest son said, ‘Mom! I’ve got it!’ I [asked] what, [and he said] ‘La Bee Da Loca!’ I said, what, like the song?”
She admitted it took her a second, but once she got it, she fell in love. It’s a perfect name for a proprietor who rightfully prides herself on being the bee lady.
Having both a shop and bee sanctuary together has been the plan from the beginning. Chavez’s love of the little bouncy insect is apparent as we walk around the shop, up the stairs (which greet you with more inspirational puns, like “Bee Kind”), and into the “bee room.” She absolutely loves a good play on words with her little friends. While her favorite bee pun changes periodically, she was willing to share her favorite of the moment.
“‘You’ve got to bee crazy,’” said Chavez.
Chavez’s bee palace, if you will, is a popular spot in Culpeper. During our interview, she periodically excused herself to introduce guests who came to see the bees, taking the time to educate them on the importance of bees, how vital they are to the world, and to our ecosystem.
Doing this sort of educating is a huge reason why she wanted to open up La Bee Da Loca, and one of her favorite parts about the job is also one of the most important: educating children.
“The kids are so open, and they want to know,” said Chavez. “It gives me a chance to tell them how non-aggressive [bees] are. Then they’ll go home and tell mom and dad they went to this really cool shop and learned about bees. Then the antenna goes up, and maybe they’ll want to learn about it. So not only have I educated a child, now I’ve educated the adults.”
Chavez has also had the joy of experiencing Cuban bee culture with beekeepers from around the world. The Cuban approach to beekeeping is vastly different apparent from the way Americans approach it, with differences such as the fact that they do not use pesticides due to lack of access. This fact makes Cuba the only place you can obtain truly organic honey. Another interesting aspect of Cuban beekeeping that Chavez noted was the fact that women involved in the practice there were simply referred to as beekeepers — the fact that they were female made no difference.
“What I liked about being there is that they don’t see gender,” said Chavez. “I was a beekeeper. I wasn’t a woman beekeeper or a man beekeeper, I was just a beekeeper — and I knew what I was doing. That made such a big difference to me.”
She explained that her trip to Cuba was important not just because it gave her a chance to see the countryside, but also because it gave her the opportunity to meet other beekeepers, and share ideas. For Chavez, it was an irreplaceable and invaluable experience.
Her passion is undeniable — about bees, about educating to protect our world, and about her family. She began La Bee Da Loca not only as something to leave to her children and grandchildren, but also in honor of her sister.
“Before I opened the shop, I told my sister, who I was very close to, ‘This is what I wanted to do’,” said Chavez. “She was always the one who pushed me to open the shop. She was always calling, asking, ‘How are the bees?’ Unfortunately she died a couple months before we opened. So this was a way to honor her.”
Living in Richmond, two hours south of Culpeper, it’s hard to ignore the fact that many of us pride ourselves on working hard to do better for the planet and to live more sustainably in any way possible. Here in the city, it sometimes feels easy to relax and believe we have it all figured out. But I had to ask my newfound friend, the resident Bee Queen: what are we still missing?
“First of all, do you really need to kill all of your dandelions and your weeds in your yard using pesticides?” said Chavez. “Pesticides — they’re poisoning everything. Not only our food. Our water, our people — that is the worst thing. We don’t need to have that green, green lawn, [and] have everything eradicated to have the perfect world to live in. Why are we doing that? I don’t understand it.”
It goes without saying that La Bee Da Loca is one Virginia’s hidden gems. Not only is it simply adorable, it has pretty darn delicious honey. Best of all, it’s run by a passionate bee aficionado who doesn’t just want to see a better world — she is actively working to make it happen. Naturally, I had to ask her the most important question on all of our minds: What is the best way to eat honey?
“A finger,” said Chavez.
La Bee Da Loca is located at 236 E Davis St in Culpeper, VA. It’s open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10 to 5, and Sundays from 11 to 5.
Photos by Ash Griffith