Beekeeping is a time-honored craft. Beyond hipster giggles and Pinterest posts, beekeeping sustains life. And not just for making honey, but cultivating a critical part of producing the world’s food.
“It’s estimated that one out of every three bites of food we take is a result of the bees’ labor,” explained Andrew Coté to TIME. Coté is the founder of Bees Without Borders, and a fourth-generation beekeeper who sells honey in the New York Metropolitan area.
Bees are one of several species to pollinate the plants of the world, but they are the most efficient. The problem is, bees are dying by the millions.
Experts cite everything from a combination of air pollution, pesticide sprays, and even studies suggest that cell phone signals and radiation have been linked to the bee population decline. Part of the issue are that bees are also being overworked in the commercial space.
“They started treating bees like indentured servants taking them from crop to crop to pollinated and its not healthy,” said Darci Jones, founder of New Orleans Beekeepers Club on a local radio interview. “They need a variety of different pollens of foods so when give them nothing but a monoculture, it weakens them.”
This is where urban beekeepers step in. Cities are increasingly in support of beekeeping; resulting in honey collectors popping up in urban areas across the U.S.
With 10,000 hives and growing, the collective of about 900 beekeepers make up the New York City Beekeepers Association. Started in 2006, the organization provides education and awareness for beekeepers and those who support the efforts of honey collection.
On the east side of Detroit, a consistent visual of the landscape are vacant lots, abandoned homes and foundation studs where homes used to sit, but were bulldozed by the city. As beekeeping nonprofit, Detroit Hives told in a video, “this was a goldmine.”
Overflowing on derelict lots were “dandelions, thistles, clover, goldenrods and daisy’s all free from pesticides, herbicides and other dangerous chemicals,” said Timothy Paula, part of the cofounding couple of Detroit Hives. His other half is Nicole Lindsey.
The plants provided fertile soil for bee farms. So, the modest-sized collective set up shop, and turned the lots into bee farms; thus the urban bee farmer was created in a city almost devastated by severe economic loss.
The focus of Detroit Hives is to educate people on bees and support the conservation of the cherished pollinator.
Founded in 2010 by Aaron Daniels, JerzeyBuzz is a Newark-based family operated business. The operation started in the backyard of Bradley and Linda Daniels, the parents of Aaron. They carved out a patch of their urban garden for beekeeping space then Aaron trained as a beekeeper through the New Jersey beekeeping association. Since, he sells raw honey and honey-based products at farmer’s markets in-and-around Newark. Often he sells out.
Not far from O’hare airport, there is much love buzzing around with program Sweet Beginnings, an initiative that trains formerly incarcerated men and women on beekeeping. Along with the all-natural raw honey, employees learn how to market and sell honey-infused body care products in the line Beelove. Click on the picture then watch in Facebook for full screen.
In 2015, a 136-year-old ordinance disallowing beekeeping in Los Angeles was overturned by City Council. But like the reputation of the Wild, Wild West, Angelenos set up backyard hives and maintained wild hives anyway.
Backwards Beekeepers, founded in 2006, is a rescue and salvage group that locates wild hives in the extensive Los Angeles landscape. They maintain the hives then harvests their honey. As well, they focus on the conservation of bees due to beekeeping farms a couple of hours away in California’s agriculture belt suffering from severe bee loss.
The Big Easy
Community gardens and urban patches on family land used to be a staple in the predominantly African-American city, New Orleans. Yet, years of urban decline and post-Hurricane Katrina wiped out much of the local farming efforts. However, an area known for food that teems with herbs and spices, and African spiritual practices of plant medicine, the city could not continue to neglect its history of inner city agriculture. That included bees.
Darci Jones’ organization, the New Orleans Beekeepers Club, meet monthly in learning how to perform beekeeping on a budget and maintaining the bees. Jones said that she got into beekeeping when her interest for pollination developed. She soon learned that bee loss was increasing. Citing chemical exposure, Jones also pointed to the commercial use of bees for pollination, as working bees to death, literally.
The Big Smoke
Although, London is across the pond, it’s bee culture compliments U.S. beekeeping. The urbanization of the once rural agrarian countryside held a number of beekeepers. So much so, the birthplace of the famed lovable bear, “Winnie the Pooh,” emerged in the UK metropolis.
In 2012, the city launched the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) to increase honey and plant cultivation, as well as, preserve bee populations. Today, the BBKA is 8,000 strong. It’s members call themselves “backyard apiarists.” Today, you can find hives in cemeteries and on Mary Poppins-style rooftops.
“The bees don’t need us, we need the bees. The bees will be perfectly fine without us … if we treat the bees well, they’ll treat us well. And in the end, everyone will win … including the bees,” said Coté.