Close up of freshly built comb. Photo by Ironbee Collective on Flickr.Close up of freshly built comb. Photo by Ironbee Collective on Flickr.

What’s the Buzz? How Honeybees Help Shape Urban Farming

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As consumers, we don’t always know where our food sources come from, or what helps supply it. As of late, the plight of the honeybee has lead to an influx of interest in what is happening in the bee world. To cut to through all the misinformation and see how the honeybees are tied into the city scene, I talked to Brent Wesley a local honeybee farmer in Akron, Ohio, looking for answers on how we have a large impact on the honeybee population, and how the honeybees themselves affect urban growth.

The honeybee is not something we commonly associate with our food, but rather a pesky insect often mistaken for a wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket. The honeybee is non-threatening, and although swatting them away may seem innocent, it puts their entire colony at risk. There are many other factors that can cause colony collapse, including the destruction of strong pollinators, and the production of chemical compounds.  To help ensure the survival of the honeybees, planting trees and flowers can help the bees pollinate, thus allowing them to bring food back to their hives to initiate honey production. Depending on the trees and plants bees pollinate from, it affects the flavor of the honey. For instance, harvesting honey on the east side of town, may taste entirely different than the honey harvest on the west side of town, and it has nothing to do the bees themselves, but rather the greenery of the neighborhood.

Pro honeybee streetart propaganda in the UK. Photo courtesy of stealmag.com

Pro honeybee street art propaganda in the UK. Photo courtesy of stealmag.com

Farmers consider bees their flagship pollinators, in order to produce sustainable agriculture. Without their pollination, many fruits and vegetables would not survive. Pumpkins, oranges, cherries, among others are simply dependent on honeybee pollination. Pesticides are often used by non-organic farmers, which help keep insects away from crops. By purchasing and using these products, the bee community not only suffers but the health of our bodies becomes at risk as well.  Pesticides are usually sprayed onto crops, which then become pollinated by the bees. As a result, the chemicals compromise the honey, often killing the hive entirely. By boycotting these pesticide companies, we disrupt the economy (if the boycott has any effect at all). Even the wind can blow these chemicals onto the crops. A simple solution would be finding less harmful ways of ridding insects without destroying our environment, and our food source. The honeybees supply our food source, and if there is colony collapse, what about human collapse without food? Surely we could continue to ingest chemical composed foods, but it’s not worth the risk of our health. Unfortunately, practical solutions are not always so simply.

Most honey in major grocery stores is non-local, and non-organic. Often times, honey that is mass-produced is heated to a high temperature, thus removing all of the nutritional ingredients that make honey beneficial to our bodies. It’s also been suggested that eating local honey can help reduce allergies. Consider that bees pollinate locally, and the plants that they frequent get molded into the fabric of the honey. In addition, studies show that honey isn’t just a sweetener, but it may also aid depression and it a great source for reducing soreness of your throat and vocal chords.

Wesley has created a local apiary in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood, where many community members have become curious as to what’s behind the closed gates. Most residents are just excited to see a new development happening. Wesley has plans for future endeavors, including opening new bee yards, purchasing local real estate, and looking to create a partnership with a local restaurant, helping to sustain the Akron economy. Wesley has also considered creating honey by products such as soaps and lip balms, which he plans to sell at a community block party in front of the apiary. His mantra is not that different from that of the hive: “Weave yourself into the fabric of the community”. His plans for the apiary have included teaching locals about the nature and science of the honeybee. Wesley values education, and is in talks with Akron Public Schools to teach seminars on the honeybees and the nature of their obedience, and selflessness.

Urban Beekeeping. Photo by @marsdd on Flickr

Urban Beekeeping. Photo by @marsdd on Flickr

The order of nature states that a queen bee rules the hive, while there are two classes of bees, drones (boys) and workers (girls). The bees know that they’re going to die, but work until they can no longer for the greater good of the hive. They often forgo their own life for their hive.

Raising honeybees serve their own purpose. They are able to sustain themselves in an environment, which they thrive. The fact that bees pollinate most fruits, vegetables, plants, and trees, help to sustain an agricultural economy and provide curb appeal for neighborhoods that have plenty of organics. Beyond aesthetics, honey provides attractiveness to certain people. By building a bee yard in a defunct neighborhood, Wesley has created a community, and inspired others to create further growth and potential. Akron Honey Company is looking to give Akronites something to be proud of, something to call their own, and a reason to brag. Wesley is hoping his hard work ethic will initiate others into pursing a sustainable local economy. Local merchants and mom and pop shops are vitally important into shaping a neighborhood for revitalization.

In the scope of America, the bee industry is not as prevalent as it is in urban areas. In Mentor Ohio, Urban Honeybee founder, Laura Urban, raises queen bees and sells bee-keeping equipment. Mueller Honeybee Removal safely removes swarms and hives. If ever removing a hive on your own accord, it could destroy the hive if not removed properly. Urban farmers and beekeepers alike work together as team and not in competition. For Akron Honey Company, it’s about the honeybees and the people in tandem, it’s about togetherness. Wesley says “a hive isn’t going to fail because of the bees” it’s a responsibility of the community to keep bee friendly plants, especially those considered weeds, like dandelions. Without having your yard look like Desperate Housewives, it’s important to not take away their food from lawns. Let the flowers grow, keep up with the Joneses and admire the esthetics.

So what does it take to raising bees on your own? Patience. One cannot be greedy when it comes to honey production. Bees create honey for themselves, not for others. Bees eat their honey in the winter. When pulling honey from the hives, we’re taking it away from them, which force them to work harder, but taking too much honey, can kill the hive. Akron Honey Company is considered commercial beekeeping, for their interests in profits, and efficiency. The company only pulls from the hives once a year (mid summer); this provides lots of honey and contains three different seasons.

Wesley remarks, “If the business fails, there’s honey for life”.

Rachael Gilliland
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Rachael Gilliland

Contributing Author at The Urbanist Dispatch
Rachael was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. She is currently an undergraduate student at Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University, pursuing a degree in Urban Studies. Special interests include Architecture, Pop Culture, Urbanism, and Food.
Rachael Gilliland
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Rachael Gilliland

Rachael was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. She is currently an undergraduate student at Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University, pursuing a degree in Urban Studies. Special interests include Architecture, Pop Culture, Urbanism, and Food.

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