It may be full of potential, but urban beekeeping is a movement that's still in its infancy in Los Angeles, with many challenges that prevent it from taking off. Cities all over the world are promoting beekeeping as a necessary practice to increase food security and environmental stability. In fact, beekeeping is so hot, even Michelle Obama has christened the White House garden with two healthy hives. So what’s the hold up, LA?
From a social perspective, how can we dispel the fear that has long overshadowed the bees' reputation: the dreaded beesting? And from a political perspective, how do you legalize urban beekeeping in a city that disallows it and instead maintains a policy to exterminate all wild honey bees?
Rob and Chelsea MacFarland think they've figured out the answers to these questions, and have set out to eliminate these barriers with their organization, HoneyLove. They believe that the city is actually the last refuge of the honeybee, since our home gardens, unlike farms in rural areas, are generally free of pesticides. Urban beekeeping is thriving in cities across the U.S., from New York to San Francisco, but is relatively new in Los Angeles. And it's a shame because unlike most urban areas in the country, there is year-round availability of pollen and nectar for them to feed on in the City of Angels.
Despite the hospitable habitat, urban beekeeping is still illegal in LA—and misinformation about the danger of "killer bees" means most people aren't rushing to put on a bee suit. So in order to help it take off, HoneyLove is focusing its efforts on the legal matter, petitioning to legalize urban beekeeping in Los Angeles. And when they aren't meeting with community councils and petitioning the city (a hearing date will be set this month), they are educating the wee ones, pushing the idea that bees are a critical part of the ecosystem—and not something to fear.
I had a chance to catch up with Rob, co-founder of HoneyLove. He says the main issue is that people associate anything that is black and yellow with bees; yet it's the wasp—not the honeybee—that is likely to sting at the picnic table. Wasps are aggressive and omnivorous, whereas honeybees are vegetarian and peaceful, just defensive. Unfortunately, people are likely to call an exterminator if they come across a hive in their yard or compost bin, when they should actually call HoneyLove to rescue those busy bees.
And in case you're wondering why this all matters, don't let their small size fool you. Honeybees pollinate one-third of U.S. agriculture, from avocados to berries to broccoli, and they're dying rapidly. With worldwide bee populations threatened with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and urban beekeeping more popular than ever, both the policies and the misconceptions around bees need to change.
Photo courtesy of HoneyLove.org