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Carly Otis

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Can urban beehives increase food production?

It has been estimated that somewhere between fifty and ninety percent of the colonies of bees in US beekeeping operations have collapsed from a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This disorder is characterized by the disappearance of bees from a colony, but a lack of dead bodies to explain where they went. Some scientists believe that the culprit is a virus known as the Israeli acute paralysis virus (Cox-Foster et al, 2007). CCD is causing the collapse of bee colonies all over the world, reducing pollination rates, and causing essential food sources to become more scarce and more expensive. Noah Wilson-Rich, a scientist who studies bee diseases, has suggested an easy solution to the problem: urban beekeeping. In his Ted Talk “Every City Needs Healthy Honey Bees”, Wilson-Rich shares that bees are actually surviving better in urban environments than rural ones. He suggests that increasing the number of urban beehives, along with introducing green roofs and urban gardens, will allow food production to begin to increase (while also reducing the prices of many crops). In many cities in the United States it is illegal to have a beehive because people are allergic and/or afraid of bees, but in some countries urban beekeeping is thriving (Paris, France is a great example!). 

Do you think it is possible for the United States to develop an urban beekeeping industry? Would it have enough of a positive outcome to outweigh the downsides of urban beehives?

http://www.ted.com/talks/noah_wilson_rich_every_city_needs_healthy_honey_bees.html
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/318/5848/283.full

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Closing Statement from Carly Otis

After much conversation, I think it is safe to say that most people think that urban beehives will have a positive influence on honey bee populations and biological diversity in urban environments. However, many people pointed out that this will not solve the issue of colony collapse disorder that is facing bees. Much more research needs to be done to determine what the true culprit of this phenomenon is (possibilities are neonicotinoid pesticides, varroa mites, Israeli acute paralysis virus, etc), but in the meanwhile urban beehives can help to maintain populations. It was mentioned a few times throughout the conversation that many people will be opposed to the introduction of urban beehives due to the rather large portion of our society that is afraid of and/or allergic to bees. To get around this, many people suggested that schools implement some sort of program to teach the public that honey bees are actually nothing to be afraid of, and that they will only harm you if you harm them. In addition, keeping beehives in places that are out of public view will help to alleviate some issues relating to neighborly disputes and accidental stings. One good technique is to place hives on rooftops, which will force bees to fly at a higher elevation and reduce the amount of bee-human interactions. Another issue with urban beekeeping is that there are much fewer food resources for bees in urban environments than rural ones, so it was decided that an urban beekeeping industry will only be successful in places where urban gardens and/or green roofs are also successful. Overall, it sounds like urban beekeeping has a good chance in the U.S., as long as we begin to educate people about honey bees and how critical they are for food production.

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    Jon Cox

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    May 21 2013: Urban beekeeping is already pretty popular with backyard farmer types and is in fact legal in most places in the U.S. Just in the last few years bans on bees have been lifted in cities all over the country. New York City, for example, legalized beekeeping in 2010 (1). Some cities continue to keep bees out but their numbers are dropping. This website provides a wall of shame displaying cities and areas that still prohibit beekeeping (2).

    Maybe someone mentioned this already, but urban farming laws here in Eugene, OR were recently modified and it is now perfectly legal to maintain not 1 but 3 apiaries on your property in city limits as long as you meet certain care guidelines (3). In addition to bees, we can now have goats, pigs, and more rabbits or chickens than before.

    As personal and community gardens become more common and people wise up about what they are eating and discover the joys of growing one's own food, adding bees to the mix is a totally logical step. More bees in the city = more productive gardens for everyone within range of the hive. It makes a lot of sense.

    As for downsides of urban beekeeping... are there any? One article (4) warns that there may be dangers.. so adequate education and regulation are a must, but otherwise I hope to see urban beekeeping and gardening rise together in popularity.

    1. http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/blogs/bees/legalized-beekeeping
    2. http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/blogs/bees/illegal-urban-beekeeping-0602
    3. http://www.registerguard.com/web/news/sevendays/29471508-41/animal-ordinance-six-council-residents.html.csp
    4. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/6016980/The-dangers-of-amateur-urban-beekeeping.html
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      May 21 2013: It would be cool to see cities make an initiative for bee keeping. Like have a specific number of bee farms that would be beneficial to that area and pay people so much extra per year, or give a tax break to those keeping bees on their property. I think that it would make bee populations increase in cities and make people more aware that it is a problem that needs to be addressed. And that bees are not to be feared but honored for the job they do pollinating our plants.
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        Jon Cox

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        May 21 2013: Yeah that's a great idea. It could definitely by argued that urban bees provide a great service to residents and improve quality of life in cities, it would make sense that a city would offer some sort of incentive for keeping them. There are plenty of tax breaks out there for agriculture, such as livestock, etc., but in most (but not all) places it seems that bees are excluded. A couple years ago Lee County, FL categorized bees as livestock and so beekeepers would receive agricultural exemptions on their property taxes. Of course many people complained, worried that the county would lose too much money and because bees are relatively easy to keep, people would abuse the statute and just keep bees for the tax breaks. I believe that beekeepers had to be able to prove that they were actually making money from their bees to receive the credit.

        I think people are starting to see bees differently, but ignorance and baseless fear are still a huge problem. It makes no sense to be afraid of insects :] Very few can actually hurt you and the rest simply make life on earth possible.

        http://www.nbc-2.com/story/15271243/bees-giving-landowners-sweet-tax-breaks
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        May 21 2013: I like the idea of giving a tax break to people who have beehives on their property, however I think that is really far off in the future if it ever happens. It definitely makes sense though! The government subsidizes a lot of different types of food, it would only make sense to subsidize the one thing that allows food production to occur at all. They should, at the very least, be implementing some sort of protection for the bees since they are so important to us.
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          May 21 2013: I would like to think that it doesn't have to be that far off in the future. I think the first step would be informing the general population about the benefit of bees and that they do not need to be feared. We could start teaching kids the basic importance about bees in elementary school and get more in depth in high school. I think getting more people aware of what is going on would be the first step and then with enough people on board the government will have to follow our lead.
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        May 21 2013: Also, as I saw from an urban farm yesterday, honey bees are not aggressive unless provoked. If we create urban beehives that are thriving, pollinating, managed and controlled correctly, most likely these bees will be "high on nectar" as someone once said, and won't even worry about us pesky humans. They'll be focusing on their goal of pollination, and if we provide the flowers, crops, etc that they need, which would be the goal, they'd be doing their jobs and no bothering us, benefiting society and nature.
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          May 22 2013: That is an important realization, that honey bees are essentially totally harmless unless forced to defend themselves. Stinging is a very expensive thing for a honey bee to do considering that it results in their death!

          And I bet you already know this but just for fun I will clarify that pollination is not the goal of bees or other pollinator species. Over time plants have devised ways to convince or just trick animals into helping them reproduce and disperse. The goal of the bee is to obtain nectar and pollen, and it fertilizes flowers inadvertently as it does so.
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      May 21 2013: This information about urban bee keeping in the US is very encouraging. I think the most important factor to keep in mind as this movement proliferates cities across the US is public acceptance/approval. By educating people about the benefit bees provide and ensuring adequate regulation/enforcement of urban hives, I think this movement can have successful outcomes. This delicate balance of ecological benefit and public consent must be maintained at all costs because it only takes one lawsuit from an outraged citizen for a city to start banning urban bee keeping. Overall, this is an awesome concept and I hope it experiences successful implementation and longevity.
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        May 22 2013: Unfortunately public consent is the limiting factor of progress in a lot of these environmental/ecological issues, isn't it?

        :)

        But then again there are things like the Belo Monte dam project that go ahead without public consent, and that is really scary...

        It takes time to introduce ideas and change minds, I suppose.
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      May 22 2013: The only real downside that I can think of for urban beekeeping, especially in its early stages are the lack of regulation leading to issues like you pointed out. In London there has been a recent boom of urban beekeeping which has led to a huge increase in the number of individuals and hives in the population. The increase has been so great and so rapid that experts there now fear that the bees may soon run out of suitable food sources (1). Like you said though, this issue would be easy to fix if educated, strict regulations were placed on how many bees are allowed within a particular area.

      1)http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2224640/Urban-beekeeping-Not-food-popular-trend-doubles-population.html

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