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LA WEEKLY: “Could L.A. Become a Honeybee Mecca?”

By Gendy Alimurung

LA Weekly Article

Look inside a plain wood box, in a truck, in the driveway of Rob and Chelsea McFarland’s house on certain spring nights, and you will see them. Bees.

How did they get there? Turn back the clock two years, to another season, another swarm. This one arrived in the afternoon while Rob was working in the backyard — one bee at first, then thousands, clustered into a ball the size of two footballs. It landed in a tree.

Instead of killing the bees, Rob called a group he’d read about online, which “rescues” them: the Backwards Beekeepers. That evening, wearing only a T-shirt and jeans and no protective suit, a volunteer from the group clipped the branch of bees, dropped it into a cardboard box and sealed it up. Rob, now 33, and wife Chelsea, 31, were astounded. “It revealed to me the gentle nature of bees,” Rob says.

Soon he started going on rescues, too — as many as three a day. He climbed a tangerine tree in the middle of the night and brought down the biggest open-air hive Chelsea had ever seen. With a frenzied smile, Rob gripped the severed branch with massive honeycombs dangling off it — a 60-pound lollipop of bees. Chelsea snapped a picture.

Then the dawning realization: “Where the hell do we put them?” It is a recurring question that will consume their next few days, then months, then years.

The tangerine tree hive sat on their roof for a spell. The McFarlands live in a modest house in the Del Rey neighborhood, a narrow, two-mile strip that cleaves Culver City from Mar Vista. They don’t exactly have a lot of space. And what kind of neighbor welcomes a swarm?

By some miracle, after weeks of shlepping hives across the city — after the crazy logistics of matching up people who had bees but didn’t want them with people who want bees but didn’t have them — Chelsea secured a spot: a small, scrubby hilltop in agrarian Moorpark, overlooking an organic farm owned by a friend of a friend. The McFarlands christened the hilltop the HoneyLove Sanctuary.

Today it hosts 16 hives in colorful wood boxes, each from somewhere around L.A., rescued from water meters and birdhouses and compost bins, places Rob can’t recall anymore.

“Each one of these is a family,” Chelsea says. “We’re usually rushing to beat the exterminator out there.”

For the past two years, the McFarlands’ house has been a halfway home for rescued bees. Rob, a YouTube channel manager, rescues them after work in the evenings, and the bees spend the night in his truck on the driveway until he can shuttle them up to the hilltop in the morning.

You do not choose to become obsessed. As anyone who has ever fallen in love with this insect says, “The bees choose you.”

“We always kind of have bees at our place,” Chelsea admits, with a sheepish grin.

LA Weekly frame

Commercial bees — the ones used to pollinate crops in the agriculture industry — are dying off in record numbers, presenting a serious crisis to global food production. Yet in urban areas, bees thrive. No pesticides or monocrops mean healthy living conditions. As improbable as it sounds, cities like Los Angeles may be the bees’ best hope for survival.

But there’s a catch.

Urban beekeeping is legal in New York, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Paris, London, Tokyo and Vancouver. In New York and San Francisco, people keep hives on the roofs of luxury hotels and apartment buildings.

In Los Angeles, however, bees exist in a legal gray area. The county allows them. But the city has no laws specifically pertaining to urban beekeeping. Currently, if bees are found on public property, the city’s only option is to exterminate them. As a result, the past few years have seen the emergence of groups like the Backwards Beekeepers, which are devoted to rescuing and keeping these wild swarms of so-called “feral” hives within city limits.

The Backwards Beekeepers represent a whole new kind of thinking about bees. While older, established groups frown on feral hives, the Backwards Beekeepers see them as the way of the future. Where traditional bee clubs use pesticides and antibiotics to help struggling bee populations, the Backwards Beekeepers favor organic, “natural” methods. The city, in a Backwards Beekeeper’s eyes, is a bee’s ideal stomping ground.

Yet as long as the rules about keeping hives on private property are anyone’s guess, beekeepers live in fear. No one has been prosecuted, but that doesn’t seem like security enough. And so Rob and Chelsea McFarland have been working to change the city’s codes one neighborhood group at a time.

When the McFarlands consulted beekeepers in Seattle, they were advised to build support from the ground up. So the McFarlands formed a nonprofit foundation, HoneyLove, and they do endless events and outreach: wax symposiums, honey tastings, mead workshops, pollen parties, art shows, festivals, concerts, garden tours, grocery consortiums, school visits, equipment demonstrations, film screenings, radio shows, television appearances, guest lectures and video blogging. They organized a four-month feasibility study with the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council, which includes surveys with residents, testimony from a pediatric pulmonologist on the effects of bee stings and, for a little bedtime reading, 75 scholarly articles on beekeeping.

In the process, their small social circle has become a massive one; the bees opened up a community for them in a way that nothing had before. “You’d be amazed at how many people have a particular interest in bees for one reason or another,” Rob says.

How does someone get into bees? For the McFarlands, the more salient question is, how did they manage so long without bees?

The couple is well versed in the art of taking up causes. Previously they championed orangutans. But orangutans were an abstraction, thousands of miles away in the forests of Borneo. Bees were literally right in their backyard.

Chelsea, a video editor and something of a natural-born cheerleader, wanted to fix their bad rep. “You see a swarm coming, and it’s, like, ‘Killer bees! Run for the hills!’?” she says. “But actually it’s the least aggressive a bee will ever be. Because they have nothing to defend. They’re all homeless. They have no honey. They have no babies.”

Rob, who is quiet and thoughtful, with a mind prone to drawing connections, saw the intrinsic fascination of the insect itself. There were infinite, engrossing facts to learn. Did you know that bees see in ultraviolet light, so flowers look like neon signs to them? Did you know that bees are essentially plants’ way of having sex?

Collecting signatures at the Mar Vista Farmers Market one morning, they meet Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is there picking up greens for his turkeys and chickens and finches and cockatiels… [continue reading article via laweekly.com]

LA Weekly Paper

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz

HoneyLover of the Month: Roberta

HoneyLover of the Month: ROBERTA 

“Beekeeping started out just as way to improve my crops. Seemed easy enough to just get some free bees off a tree limb and stick them in a box and voila, more fruit. Well there was something about my first day that was just magical. I went to watch Kirk do a cutout with someone who had some experience. I came from work and they had gotten most of a very old and big hive out of wall. I got to just watch and learn.

The next door neighbor and her kids were watching from a window and I loved being the person explaining what was happening. Kirk was mentoring, the other beekeeper was learning how to do a cutout, I was just learning how to be around bees and the kids were learning about something so new.

Then Kirk took me to a simple swarm capture and we packaged them up into one of his old nucs and there I was with a new hive. With the swarm, it was just a small cute ball of fuzzy bees. They were gently, buzzing but pretty much content to go wherever we put them. Seemed like an innocent experience.

The excitement of being able to work with these little but powerful creatures took a hold and I had bee fever. I couldn’t get enough cutouts and swarms but then I couldn’t keep them anywhere and that’s how the mentoring started. I loved being able to share a first time cutout or swarm with others. It really felt like giving someone a gift.”

RobertaRoberta

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PHOTOS: National Honey Bee Awareness Day!!
Los Angeles, CA – August 18, 2012 - HoneyLove.org

[click here to view more photos!]

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THRASHLAB VIDEO: “Urban Beekeeping | Subculture Club”
Featuring Kirk Anderson / Backwards Beekeepers and HONEYLOVE!!

http://sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc6/182143_480990185248074_1717815868_n.jpg

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TONIGHT ATWATER VILLAGE UNANIMOUSLY VOTED IN FAVOR OF URBAN BEEKEEPING IN LOS ANGELES - That makes 7 councils so far!! Up next - Studio City!!

PLEASE SIGN OUR NEW PETITION: 
http://www.change.org/petitions/legalize-urban-beekeeping-in-los-angeles-2

Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils that officially support our urban beekeeping motion so far!! ? 
1. Mar Vista (11/8/11)
2. Del Rey (12/8/11)
3. Greater Griffith Park (1/17/12)
4. South Robertson (1/19/12)
5. Silver Lake (3/7/12)
6. Hollywood United (3/19/12) 
7. Atwater Village (4/12/12) 

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ARTICLE: Buzzing for community development

Community organization and selfless dedication are the traits of the honeybee. The Calgary Hive Mentality Project aims to provide this perspective by hosting educators from across North America to address the importance of bees as a conduit for community development. 

The speaker series began on March 16 with Kirk Anderson, one of the founders of North America’s largest urban beekeepers’ association, and Los Angeles’s most wanted swarm catcher.

“When I first got into bees there was a big back-to-the-land movement in the late ’60s, early ’70s, but I couldn’t afford to go back to the land because I had a bunch of kids to raise,” said Anderson. 

So instead, Anderson bought some mail-order bees and put them in his mother’s backyard, pioneering a trend that would evolve into a full-blown food security movement now at the height of popularity in l.a. 

“People want to be connected to that, especially the young generation,” he said. 

Anderson is founder and guru of the Backwards Beekeepers’ association, a group of 800 organic, treatment-free beekeepers who focus on encouraging the native feral bee populations inhabiting southern California. 

Beekeeping in l.a. is illegal. However, Anderson maintains 20 hives. 

“I usually ignore most politics unless I agree with it,” he said. “Most of the bees I use are feral so they’re already in the environment anyway. I’m just taking some of them and putting them in a box.”

Honeybees are incredibly important to pollinating a number of fruits and vegetables, but in the last 50 years, their numbers have been dwindling rapidly. Scientific researchers think the varroa destructor mite is responsible for this decline, and the mite is a topic of contention in the beekeeping community.

“[Some people] get the idea that the whole bee population will succumb unless you and a bunch of the other beekeepers become emergency medical technicians for insects,” said Anderson.

“So they’ve been treating this mite with all these chemicals, and guess what kind of mite they have left? The strongest, most resistant, toughest, meanest, no good, sob mites that have ever come down the line,” he said. 

Anderson was confident in nature’s ability to select for the strong rather than relying on human intervention to give a bad track record for managing nature. 

According to Anderson, it is the wild bees, who are as diverse as the cultures represented in l.a., that makes bee populations resilient. He also argues that diversity in the environment is required to keep the bees healthy. 

Eliese Watson, organizer of the event and sole proprietor of Calgary’s Apiaries and Bees for Communities, also agrees that diversity is key to the survival of not only bees, but also humans. 

“Our rural setting has been monopolized by monoculture,” she said. “No longer is our rural environment a healthy environment for nature to thrive.”

With a massively industrialized agricultural system affecting nature, hobbyists like Anderson and Watson are finding ways to change human participation in food production.

“People are starting to actually have a connection with nature and recognizing that for humans to thrive, nature must thrive,” said Watson. “And so for bees to come into the city is a complete natural progression of the human psyche in accepting nature in our urban spaces.” 

Watson was featured on the Discovery Channel’s The Daily Planet in 2011 as she roamed across the city rescuing swarms of bees. For Watson, the national press has only added more momentum to her business and the urban beekeeping movement in Calgary. 

“It’s not always easy, but the Calgary community has been incredibly supportive,” she said of the increased interest and responsiveness to urban beekeeping. “The altruism, love, compassion, and care within a bee colony truly does exist within our society.”

[click here to view the original article on thegauntlet.ca]

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WHO: Kirk Anderson
WHAT: Hive Mentality Project
WHEN: March 16th, 2012
WHERE: Calgary, Alberta CANADA

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MVCC Approves Motion to Support Urban Beekeeping Los Angeles

The motion will next be presented to the Los Angeles City Council.

“The Mar Vista Community Council Board of Directors maintained a quorum Tuesday night and voted to approve the motion to support urban beekeeping in Los Angeles…

Backwards Beekeepers founder Kirk Anderson noted that Mar Vista has a thriving population of feral bees, and allowing beekeepers to step up and legally manage bees would only help the community. 

Green Committee Co-Chair Sherri Akers also spoke about HoneyLove founders Rob and Chelsea McFarland, who first brought the idea of a beekeeping pilot project to the council. She spoke of how the couple had personally worked to remove hives from public spaces and protect the community from feral bees. 

Board member Kate Anderson said she respected the concerns about being stung but added that the six-month study by the council had seriously considered the issues at hand and had done its work.

Board Member Geoffrey Forgione also pointed out that the motion that will now be presented to the City Council is not advocating that the pilot program take place specifically in Mar Vista. Rather, the MVCC is advocating for the implementation of the program in Los Angeles.

Following the approval of the motion, several supporters dressed in black and yellow applauded the move as they waved yellow pom poms on sticks above their heads.

Chelsea McFarland told Patch she was grateful for the support of the MVCC Green Committee and the Backwards Beekeepers, saying, “This was a great night for Los Angeles beekeepers.”

Przekop, who headed up the outreach committee for the project told Patch she was happy that the motion passed but that “it’s a very small step in a long process. I hope [the Los Angeles City Council] and other neighborhood councils support this, because this isn’t going to happen just by Mar Vista supporting it.”

Przekop added she was thrilled to be part of this grassroots movement and that the template created in Mar Vista for the beekeeping project is something that other communities can use in seeking support for the project.

The MVCC motion reads:

The committee reviewed over 150 articles on beekeeping, best practices, planning articles on Urban Agriculture, State, County and city beekeeping regulations to help in the evaluation of the recommendations and conclusions of the Beekeeping Feasibility Study. The committee also spoke to program directors in numerous cities where programs are in place.

The Feasibility Study concludes that there is a strong community interest in supporting beekeeping efforts and that doing so would result in positive changes that permit the healthy growth of honey bee colonies and increase the production and quality of fruits, vegetables and flowers in Mar Vista’s organic home gardens while providing a community service as a resource for the removal of feral (wild) hives. Research indicates that such a program would be cost neutral to the city of LA.

The MVCC Board therefore recommends the implementation of a Beekeeping Pilot Program in to test safety and develop best practices for future expansion. We urge the City of LA to adopt a policy that includes conditions relating to maintenance, location, registration and notification to assure for the safety of all residents, which may result in the continued preservation of quality of life and preservation of single-family residential districts.”

[click here to read the original article on marvista.patch.com]

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