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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?



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 21 2013: The US has lots of micro-breweries, so using them as a model we could aim for lots of micro-honey-producers. They each could have they own unique flavor, so you want John’s clover-Honey, or Jain’s daisy-Honey?

    It would be really helpful if cities could give sales-tax breaks to the local micro honey producers.

    Personally I live rural and although I don’t have beehives, I have seen I lot more honey bees this year. And I have been working for years to make my land more pollinator friendly, with a few butterfly-bushes, rose bushes, humming bird feeders, etc. and about 2 acres of clover that happened naturally.
    Once I get done planting I will have to look into starting beehives.
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      May 21 2013: Another idea could be for cities to give property tax breaks to homeowners/landowners in the city to plant honey bee friendly flowers and trees so as to sustain local and maybe commercial colonies used for these 'micro-honey-producers.'
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        Mario R

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        May 22 2013: Hello Walter,

        I don't know about property tax breaks, but I do know that there are grants for beekeeping. I think this is a great idea, not only because it helps stimulate the number of beehives, but also because it encourages people to start getting more involved in beekeeping. More and more people also might start realizing the crucial role that bees play in pollination. Maybe then there won't be as many pesticides used,which have been thought to adversely affect the health of the bees.

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        May 22 2013: Hi Walter,

        Do you have examples where tax breaks have been a successful route to promote change in an area like this? If there was any evidence to suggest that tax breaks were successful for promoting green space then I would see how this model could translate to beekeeping one day.
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          May 22 2013: Political pushes for more green space in the last decade or so have proven to be very successful. In a CNN article from 2006, 77 % of tax or bond initiatives we passed in 23 states. This amount totaled over $5 billion toward land conservation and the creation of green space. Also in that same year a considerable area of green space was added to New York city by converting a run down train track into a city park. This was also widely supported by politicians and the people of New York. This has also happened in Atlanta, Georgia.
          There isn't much evidence for promoting green space with tax breaks, but the incentives offered by the U.S. federal gov. to individuals and corporations for becoming more energy efficient was very successful. Other incentives were given to green energy companies and caused a spike in solar and wind energy.
          With these incentives promoting green energy and making it a more popular topic today I think we could extend it to promoting green space. The promotion of green space with a great drive for educating about our pollinators we could see a shift toward this. I would suggest that if incentives were offered to those who own property in a city where taxes are highest for home and living, then many would take advantage of it.


          A Nat. Geo. article on urban farming also suggests that incentives may help us along the path promoting green space.
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        May 22 2013: I like the idea of providing incentives for people to promote bees by planting bee friendly plants and trees around their property. Giving a tax break or some other incentive could certainly help the situation without the need for any major changes like purchasing new land for a bee habitat which would likely have large expenses as well.
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          May 22 2013: That makes a lot of sense.. we could provide "stepping stones" to help the bees move and pollinate, while simple planting vegetation that people could have in their gardens anyway! That's also why I like the idea of green roofs and rooftop gardens... it's space that already exists, we just need to utilize it better.
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      May 22 2013: I like the idea of micro-honey producers. This could reduce one of the possible stresses to the colonies by keeping colonies that more closely resembled colonies in nature, with both honey producing and pollinating members rather than just tons of pollinators. We could then reduce our dependence on foreign "honey", much of which may in fact be fake and laden with heavy metals and illegal antibiotics, as reported in Mother Jones last year.

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        May 22 2013: It is not a new idea; I noticed in many Irish cooking shows they use clover honey.
        So it is easy to assume that there must be micro-honey producers or at least stationary honey producers in Ireland and likely elsewhere.

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