Wednesday, November 12, 2008
YES WE CAN have urban bees
Above: Rooftop hives at undisclosed location translate to Let is Bee Local Honey.
One additional way Mayor Bloomberg could achieve his goal of an “environmentally sustainable 21st century city” at NO COST to the city would be to rescind the ban on honeybees (Apis melifera) in the five boroughs.
At no cost because beekeepers would be happy to set up hives on rooftops and in backyards. These bees would be happy to pollinate the one million trees that Bloomberg plans to plant in the next ten years, as well as all the existing trees and flowers. The bees would happily - and at no cost – collect nectar and pollen from the city’s greenery and produce local honey that would provide unique health benefits to all the residents of the city.
Given the current crisis in the honeybee population, and the much lamented disconnect so many urbanites have from the natural world, welcoming bees into the green pastures of NYC would signal a municipal willingness to be in the forefront of reclaiming that natural world for our urban population.
What with the rapturous response to the election of Obama, the US is now poised to regain some goodwill and credibility abroad. What better adjunct to that positive step than to align ourselves with the venerable tradition of urban beekeeping? In Paris there are beehives atop the roof of the Opera House producing over 200 pounds of honey annually; for highly inflated prices you can buy Opera honey in the gift shop downstairs and at Fauchon; the beekeeper cannot fulfill the demand. Elegant hotels keep rooftop hives to supply their guests with local honey. Beehives are a common sight in the city gardens of Berlin, where there are approximately 500 beekeepers. The Czech republic claims to have more than 50,000 beekeepers, which means that one of every 210 Czechs keeps bees; so naturally Prague is full of apiaries. In London you can find beehives atop the Bank of England, but not enough apparently, since – according to the Telegraph because of the honeybee shortage, England will run out of local honey before Christmas this year.
According to Jürgen Hans, chairman of Berlin's beekeepers' association, "Cities are ideally suited for bees.” And I concur. Advantages of urban apiaries include the lack of agricultural pesticides in the city, the warmer climate that translates to a longer collecting season for the bees, the variety of the flora, and the enormous health benefits of locally harvested honey for all those who suffer from seasonal allergies.
In fact, the economy would benefit from the diminution of sneezing, runny eyes, and congested sinuses in businesses all over the city. Because the bees collect nectar and pollen from the very plants that irritate the nasal passages and cause all that allergic misery, a teaspoon of local honey daily acts on the homeopathic principle of giving you a minute amount of that very allergen and hence immunizing your system. In the countryside people have known this for centuries and treat themselves with honey; why should not the residents of New York City have the same advantage?
With the election of Barack Obama, we have just witnessed a seismic shift in the American politic landscape and the fall of an enormous barrier. Removing honeybees from the listed of banned ‘wild animals’ in New York City would represent the fall of yet another barrier, one that separates American city dwellers from the wonders of the natural world and the flavors of homegrown honey.