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There’s a Buzz About Urban Beekeeping

We at Village Preservation keep tabs on all different types of preservation, including environmental sustainability. So we’ve been really interested to learn about the expanding opportunities in our neighborhoods for urban agriculture, and especially beekeeping.

There are millions of bees buzzing around the five boroughs of New York City. From the rooftops of high-rises to community gardens throughout our neighborhoods, Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo are home to thousands of active beehives. But this wasn’t always the case.

Prior to a 2010 ruling, beekeeping existed in New York City, but only under the radar. Until that time, the city deemed beekeeping to be as dangerous as keeping cobras, tarantulas, or hyenas on one’s property. Indeed, if caught, beekeepers faced hefty fines of up to $2,000. Since the 2010 ruling that legalized beekeeping, both bees and beekeepers have been on the rise here in our neighborhoods, and so have organizations and services designed to help residents explore apiculture.

Bee pollination is a vital factor of plant fertilization.

It can be difficult to connect with nature in New York City. Abel Nottinghamsher, a fourth-generation beekeeper and active member of the New York City Beekeepers Association, says that getting back in touch with nature is a “strong motivation for many New York City beekeepers,” but this is not the only reason why New Yorkers are increasingly making space for bees in their backyards and on their rooftops. Nottinghamsher emphasizes that as strange as it may sound, beekeeping also has a therapeutic side: “Beekeeping is a very calming pastime—it is very soothing and even meditative—and this also appeals to many New Yorkers.” During this fraught time of the past few months, our neighbors have taken up beekeeping for these and a variety of other reasons.

Bees have a calming effect

Virginia Davies and her family are forging the path for West Villagers to embrace the urban farming movement here. Virginia’s mission is to plant the seeds for the next generation of urban dwellers and expand the vision for rooftop apiculture in NYC. Beginning as an adventure in gardening and a farm-to-table education, as well as family bonding time, the endeavor has turned into a passion to inspire the next wave of rooftop apiaries. Virginia’s 5 year-old granddaughter, Livie, is her partner in the venture. The honey they produce is absolutely delicious, and bears Livie’s name!

One company that specializes in urban beekeeping is The Best Bees Company, whose mission is to expand the honey bee population whilst improving the overall health and safety of bees nationwide. They provide services for some of the many apiaries in our neighborhoods. Noah Wilson Rich, Ph.D. started The Best Bees Company as a means to raise funding for scientific research to improve honey bee health. They now offer beekeeping services throughout southern New England, New York City, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. It is a full-service beekeeping operation which delivers, installs, and manages beehives for residences and businesses.

The Best Bees Company envisions a healthier and safer world for the bee community. All of the hives contribute data points through their affiliated 501(c)3 nonprofit to analyze and improve bee health. Very, very cool.

Another of New York City’s pioneering beekeepers is Andrew Cote. The fourth-generation beekeeper manages about 50 colonies across the city, including in our neighborhoods.

Andrew notes that the taste of honey produced in New York City varies by season. It might have a minty flavor, thanks to the many linden trees that blossom in the spring, while in the fall the honey becomes darker, more complex, and full of flavor from the copious amount of Japanese knotweed. An East Village honey, pale with a minty taste from bees working the linden trees, has hints of apple, peach and rose, from the many community gardens, according to Cote.

Beyond the pleasure of eating honey, it can also be good for you.

“Local honey is extremely useful in fighting allergies,” said Cote. “This is especially true in New York City, where there are very few indigenous trees and a great variety of tree pollen. So, honey produced by the industrious urban bees is more effective in fighting seasonal pollen allergies.”

Bees in the Laguardia Corner Gardens

Grace Church School in the East Village is a founding member of the Green Schools Alliance, and has been ranked among the top JK-12 schools by the EPA in participation in the Green Power Partnership.

Beekeepers at Grace Church School

The GCS Greenhouse and rooftop farm is a lab for students to explore urban farming. Luckily for students, the food grown on the farm is eaten at lunch! And thanks to the dedicated high school students, the roof garden hosts a beehive. The bee program educates lower school students about this critical but imperiled member of our ecosystem.

If apiculture sounds like a great way to get in touch with the natural world and even lower your anxiety levels, the New York City Beekeepers Association strongly urges self-education. As Nottinghamsher advises, “Start by taking a beekeeping class and read up on beekeeping.” Both classes and beekeeping apprenticeships are offered through the New York City Beekeepers Association. Other educational opportunities for the aspiring beekeepers are offered through NYC Parks.

Tell us about YOUR buzz!

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