TED Conversations

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?



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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  • May 22 2013: I think it depends on the size and type of cities. First of all, a beehive needs certain amount of food source (flower) within area because their area activity is limited.(they cannot fly all the way to the outside of a city)
    In metropolitan like in the east coast, the food source is limited and then more bees are possibly attracted by the artificial sweetness that human has such as perfume, food and soft drinks. In this cases, the chance of contact between human and bee increases and correlated health problems also increases.
    However, a city like Eugene is possible to share a habitat with bees. These cities have a good food sources in parks and gardens area so bees have available food sources.
    Even though there will be some health issues, we can give a short education lecture or video how to avoid bee's stinger and provides some emergency antibody for bee's sting to the publics.
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      May 22 2013: I agree, in large cities (San Francisco, New York), it will be difficult to maintain a urban bee industry because of the simple lack of flowers and high human traffic. In small communities like Eugene it is highly possible and I think many forget about the bubble of living in a bee community where they think that having a bee hive in the back yard is normal or having live stock in the backyard is normal. Yes, it may be normal in a small town/city, but in large ones it is quite... abnormal.

      Even by educating citizens about bees and the importance of them, they will still be seen as pests and as a possible danger if allergic. In large cities, I think a bee community can only work in local parks where there is a influx of flowers, but besides that it will be difficult for those to take flight. Especially since most cities don't have backyards or any space besides living in an apartment.
      • May 22 2013: Well, I have lived in Eugene for 4 yrs. Good thing is that they rarely use pesticide because it is their garden where their kids and pets are playing...
        Maybe, if we provide a small lecture in the elementary or high schools to kids, it would be more effective. It is because kids easily deliver message from teachers to parents and more effectively spread message than give a lecture to the adults.
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        May 22 2013: But it sounds like, from reading the posts of others, that New York lifted the ban on in 2010 urban beekeeping and has already registered at least 200 hives. Given that it already appears to be a movement in big cities, why do you think that it will be difficult to maintain in big cities? Did you do any research to see what is already being done in the Bay Area?

        A quick search on the topic makes it look like even San Francisco has a growing beekeeping community

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        May 22 2013: San Francisco has a growing urban farm community as well. There are about 84 gardens at the moment according to an recently published article on the SF Examiner website. The city also has lots of neighborhood parks. I think these, in combination with residential gardens (few as they may be) would be adequate to sustain many colonies. And bees are known to fly up to 7 miles from the colony to foraging sites (while returns begin to diminish at around 4 miles when you take into consideration energy spent in transit) so bees wouldn't necessarily need to fly forever in smaller cities like San Francisco.

        I'm not very familiar with the layout of New York but I imagine certain areas, at least, have quite a few parks too. If there aren't enough foraging sites for bees in city's that want the benefits they bring then it could be an excuse to plant more greenery.


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