Honeybees are the new “pets” for harbor city residents across the U.S., from San Francisco to New York City. Even the Obamas keep a beehive on the south lawn of the White House.
But the beekeeping community has been under fire as media has drawn attention to colony collapse disorder. However, according to Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture Magazine and blogger for The Daily Green, colony collapse disorder is usually not a concern for small-scale beekeepers, as they are mostly in a contained environment and not exposed to chemicals and other disorders often associated with large-scale operations.
“Colony collapse per se, as a malady for bees, really hasn’t been an issue for small-scale beekeepers,” Flottum explains. “[…] We’re not moving bees into places that bees are going to run into trouble with. We’re not stimulating bees to grow faster in the spring. We’re not pushing our bees hard to make a living. We’re ‘letting our bees be, if you will.'”
For Flottum, the rise in urban beekeeping is “in lockstep with” people’s growing concern of wanting to know where their food comes from and an increased awareness of community-supported agriculture programs.
But despite increased scrutiny of the hobby, it’s actually becoming a trend among city-dwellers. The New York City Beekeeper’s Association started with only a dozen members when it was founded in 2008 but has since grown to include hundreds of members.
“There are community gardens in East New York Brooklyn that have hives,” says Andrew Coté, a fourth generation beekeeper in Manhattan. “If it weren’t for those community gardens, a very under-served community literally would not have enough food to put on the tables of the people who live there.”
As director and founder of The New York City Beekeeper’s Association, Coté says urban beekeeping benefits go well beyond pollination. Ingesting local honey may help fight pollen allergies and beehives placed on school rooftops can be a great learning tool for science classes.
Until recently, those who owned a hive in New York City had to keep its whereabouts a secret. A New York City Health Code prohibited residents from owning bees, citing that they are venomous. But under a new bill sponsored by Council Member David Yassky, applicants can now apply for a license, which would trump the health code’s prohibitions.
“The trees that line the streets, the avenues and parks, the community gardens, the windowsill tomatoes plants,” Coté says, “everything that buds needs pollination.”