The Big Apple Needs Bees!

Last Wednesday, Feb 3rd, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene held a public hearing to discuss a proposed amendment to Article 161 of the New York City Health Code, which prohibits the keeping of wild animals, currently including honeybees. A proposal to amend this section was presented in December, which would "allow New Yorkers to keep hives of non-aggressive honeybees."

Just Food, a nonprofit working to build a just and sustainable food system in New York City, has done considerable community organizing around this issue. Carly Hutchinson, who spoke on behalf of the organization, was excited to report that thousands of people had signed their petition. "Urban farming is a key to environmental sustainability, and honeybees and beekeepers are an essential part," she observed.

Members of the public who wished to comment on the proposed amendment were asked to pre-register, with statements limited to five minutes. Comments were offered by New York City residents, fourth generation beekeepers and local food activists. Those who spoke overwhelmingly argued in favor of the proposed amendment, noting that legalized beekeeping could create jobs, enhance quality of life in New York City and support local food production.

Of course, beekeeping would also provide New Yorkers with a direct connection to their local food system and a stronger link to the natural world.

Naomi Zurcher, an arborist and trained beekeeper expressed an urgency to legalize beekeeping, saying "there is a larger issue at play here, regarding the health and well-being of New Yorkers. We have a complex ecosystem and bees play a vital role. Bees contribute to a healthy urban environment and are essential for pollination, [which], in turn, further[s] the Million Trees NYC initiative."

Everett Scott, a Manhattan resident, echoed the sentiment that everyone needs to help and stressed that beekeeping is vital for the production of locally grown food. "Proper pollination from bees affects our food security, and so it affects all New Yorkers."

Some spoke to the sweet rewards of urban beekeeping. James Rorimer of Rainforest Alliance cited the “Great Pollinator Project which discovered 226 bee species in New York City, of which 54 bee species have been identified in the Bronx, 58 from Central Park, and 59 from Prospect Park.” He went on to mention that honey harvested in neighborhoods across the city have distinct flavors. Some neighborhood restaurants, especially in Brooklyn, are already sourcing local honey. Brad Lander, Brooklyn city council member in the 39th district, expressed that "local honey is a key to growing local food," and said he "is glad to see that Brooklyn restaurants are supplying it to their customers."

In addition to local restaurants, urban farms in Brooklyn count on pollination from urban beekeepers to grow their produce. David Vigil, manager of East NY Farms (which sells over 20,000 lbs of food per year!) said that "legalizing beekeeping would be an educational tool to showcase our local food system."

The most vibrant and knowledgeable speaker of the morning had to be Andrew Cote, president of the New York City Beekeepers Association. Cote echoed the sentiment of Vigil, saying that the "communities near East NY Farms count on their local farm and hive to ensure a healthy food supply." Cole manages 30 hives in Brooklyn and Manhattan and produces Andrew’s Local Honey, which is sold at Greenmarkets around the city. He is a strong supporter of legalizing urban beekeeping, a necessity to cultivation of local food, while also ensuring that it is safe and responsible. Cote brought up the bee hives and honey harvested at the White House and said, "If [the] Obama girls can play near an active beehive, so can New Yorkers."

The Department of Health will hold a final review next month. Upon approval of this revision, the revised code could take effect as early as April and New York City might very well join the list of cities around the country with legalized urban beekeeping!