A buzz-worthy alumnus
Ual Bradley, Jr., ’79, shares his passion for saving the honeybees and the unexpected life journey that sparked it
April 11, 2017
Ual Bradley, Jr., is out to save the world, one bee at a time.
As a founder of Honey Bee City, a year-old Miami-based urban beekeeping company, Bradley has channeled his passion for service and community—which were cultivated during his years at Loyola and as a federal agent—into a surprising third act.
“Beekeeping has become another method of serving the public and nature,” Bradley said.
“And it’s a great hobby, because you have not just one pet, but 150,000 of them.”
According to the National Resources Defense Council, approximately one-third of everything we eat is a result of bees; they are the main pollinators of many fruit, vegetable, and nut crops.
Bradley explained bees have been dying at an unprecedented rate due to pesticides, parasites, and other environmental stressors. And the problem is getting worse: Beekeepers in the United States reportedly lost 44 percent of their colonies between 2015 and 2016, according to a survey by the Bee Informed Partnership.
Bradley and his partners believe everyday people—even those living in cities—can help alleviate this national crisis. By having individual families care for a beehive, colonies are spared some of the pests and diseases associated with commercial beekeepers, who may care for upwards of 100 hives.
“This allows the bees in your yard to reproduce with a greater likelihood of health, longevity, and prosperity,” he explained, adding, “Our motto is ‘A beehive in every home.’”
Urban beekeeping might seem counter-intuitive, but Bradley insists it’s a growing industry. For this reason, Honey Bee City designs hives specifically for urban spaces.
Measuring just 22-inches-long by 18-inches-wide, and standing roughly three-and-a-half feet off the ground, the company’s average hive is designed to fit well on patios, rooftops, and small yards, and to keep out pets, roaches, and other creatures.
A simple design allows novice beekeepers and children to participate in the process and upkeep.
“[Honey and beeswax are] not just a great source of extra money; beekeeping is a great way for people and families to work together,” Bradley said.
Honey Bee City was founded in April 2016 by Bradley and two friends: Juan Cobo, a Navy veteran, and Richard Cousins, a former Marine. The three met during their years of service, and teamed up after retiring to form Sirius Trading & Logistics a few years ago.
The business initially sold electronics, but evolved when Cousins, who had grown up keeping bees on a farm in North Carolina, told his business partners about the dangers of honeybee destruction.
“At the time, I knew nothing about bees—except to stay away from them,” laughed Bradley.
After he was educated on the plight of the honeybees, Bradley became convinced that their company could help.
“Bees keep dying by the millions,” he said. “There had to be something we could do.”
Bradley spent the next two months learning the ins and outs of the industry, and discovered that there was a growing honeybee marketplace, including little pockets of beekeeping clubs in cities like New York and Los Angeles.
Today he oversees marketing, design, and shipping for Honey Bee City.
He also makes a point to stay in regular contact with the Honey Bee City “mayors”: customers around the country with their own backyard beehives.
In addition to tending to his own hive in his Miami backyard, he loves educating communities about his newfound passion.
“There are very artisan things about beekeeping that a lot of people in cities and suburbs don’t know,” he explained, going on to say that each hive produces its own distinctive flavor of honey depending on its species, location, weather, and the nectar that’s available to the bees.
Honey Bee City hopes to start doing honey tastings in the future.
The road to Honey Bee City
Born in 1957 in Fort Gordon, Ga., Bradley moved with his family to Germany shortly thereafter, in part to escape the Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation in the South.
When Bradley’s father received orders to join the Vietnam conflict, the family moved back to the United States, where they eventually landed in Baltimore in 1966 and settled into the Northwood neighborhood down the street from Loyola, where Bradley would become a student in 1975.
He quickly fell in love with the campus radio station, the history department, and disco nights at The Rat, a former campus pub located in the basement of the now Andrew White Student Center.
“In 1975, with so much social unrest and the war ending, Loyola was an open community where the priests would sit down and talk with you, spend time with you, make sure you felt welcome,” he said. Loyola’s study body at the time had very little diversity; Bradley estimates he could count the number of minority students on two hands. Still, he said he always felt home at Loyola.
“Not only was I accepted, but to be in a community that didn’t really see the color of your skin… [my college years were some] of the most developmentally important stages of my life,” said Bradley, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history.
“With my Native American background and African American background, I was raised very strongly with Native American culture. That whole love of history, of knowing different variations and types of history within the context of what we were taught back then in 1975, made me really want to study it. I had aspirations at the time of becoming a history professor.”
Bradley was a member of Loyola’s ROTC program, which gave him comfort after his childhood of growing up on Army bases. While the program was not very large at the time due to anti-war sentiment, Bradley says that it formed the basis for his years of government service.
“My childhood experiences during Jim Crow segregation and the Civil Rights, women’s rights, and anti-war movements inspired me to fight for the rights of all Americans,” he said.
“There’s not a month that goes by where I don’t think about [Loyola’s motto,] Strong Truths Well Lived, especially with so much divisiveness and conflict between communities and cultures and ethnic groups right now.”
Bradley would go on to serve in the U.S. Army after graduation, eventually becoming an agent in the U.S. Customs Service in Miami in 1993, where he worked on narcotics investigations and criminal immigration, human smuggling, and organized-crime investigations.
“I loved it,” he said. “It was very intense and very dangerous; it was super high-adrenaline. The intensity and the stress level of it is very hard to describe.”
His position evolved after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when he became a special agent in the Department of Homeland Security. He reached the mandatory retirement age in 2014, after serving 21 years as a federal agent—but true to form, Bradley wasn’t quite ready to enjoy a long and peaceful retirement.
He immediately started searching for new ways to stay active and serve his country.
Saving the bees
The battle to save the bees is just beginning.
In 2016 the Obama administration implemented the Pollinator Partnership Action Plan, which focuses on honeybee health and pollinator habitat conservation. But the future of these programs is unclear, as President Trump has vowed to roll back certain Obama-era environmental regulations—making companies like Honey Bee City potentially more important than ever.
Bradley vows to keep doing his part.
“[Bees have] incredible love for each other and the colony,” he said.
“They function as one peaceful society, living in dedicated selfless service while performing increasingly important roles that contribute to the common good, and produce products that benefit themselves and mankind. Nothing beats that.”