ARTICLE: Bee fans try to get Los Angeles to allow hives in residential areas
By John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times – July 14, 2012
Rob and Chelsea McFarland are on a PR mission for bees. So far, they’ve gotten the support of 8 L.A. neighborhood councils and city Councilman Bill Rosendahl. Sweet.
Rob McFarland was in his florally vivacious backyard, tending his vegetable plot, when he noticed some honeybees buzzing around a tree. A few minutes later some bees had become tens of thousands.
“The sky was sort of darkened out,” he recalled. “It was kind of a presence that I couldn’t ignore.”
McFarland, a social media entrepreneur and avid gardener, was intrigued by honeybees and aware that hives have been dying from a mysterious cause labeled colony collapse disorder.
“I knew enough about honeybees to know they were in real trouble,” he said. “So the last thing that I wanted to go down in my own backyard, literally, was for these bees to be exterminated.”
He left frantic messages on a hotline operated by Backwards Beekeepers, a Los Angeles club that sent a member to his house. The beekeeper cut a clump of bees about the size of two footballs out of the tree without wearing a protective suit, showing an enthralled McFarland that the swarm was docile.
“It totally captured my attention, and I began to obsess over it a little bit,” he said.
McFarland and his wife, Chelsea, became interested in beekeeping but discovered that Los Angeles does not allow hives in residential zones. So, the McFarlands decided to launch an unusual grass-roots drive to change the city’s law by first winning support from at least 10 of L.A.’s 95 neighborhood councils.
Now, almost a year and a half later, their devotion has won support from eight councils. And an enthusiastic city councilman has initiated a formal study, a first step that could bring L.A. on board with other bee-friendly cities, such as New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Santa Monica.
“We have to be clear that this environment that we live in is threatened, that bees are an essential part,” said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who boasts that he has two wild hives in his yard.
The McFarlands, with their own money and what they raised at a “yellow-tie” fundraiser, started a nonprofit organization called HoneyLove. (“Chelsea’s always referred to me as ‘honeylove,’ ” Rob explained.) With friends, family and allies, they host regular educational events across the city, such as honey tastings and mead-making. Rob, 32, who is lanky and a little laconic, and Chelsea, 30, radiant and effervescent, have devised a strategy that relies heavily on their infectious passion for bees.
“They’re just unhindered enthusiasm and love for what they’re doing, and how can you not love that?” said Kirk Anderson, a mentor to many L.A.-area beekeepers.
McFarland learned from beekeepers how to capture swarms and remove unwanted hives. He has been stung more times than he can count but recalls one time with wry humor: “I’d opened my veil to itch my nose real quick and the zipper snagged as I was closing it back up and right at that moment it was like Jedi bee shoots the gap right into my face and stings me right between the eyes,” he said.
The McFarlands have set up a sanctuary for rescued bees on a hilltop in the Simi Valley. One weekend, they installed a new hive among a dozen brilliantly hued ones surrounded by blooming mustard. Rob, sheathed in a beekeeper’s suit, watched the bees stream out to explore, hovering and circling tentatively.
“You figuring it out?” he asked gently.
Saving bees led the McFarlands to want to do more. Chelsea is a video editor who studied documentary filmmaking. Rob was working on a documentary on orangutans when they met. “Chelsea and I realized that we could utilize the skill set that we’ve acquired over the years in marketing and media,” Rob said.
They have devised an ingenious campaign that blends zany fun and clever bee shtick, slyly anthropomorphizing the fuzzy yellow-and-black insects into huggable cartoons. At events, Rob sometimes wears a bee suit or a yellow T-shirt, and Chelsea typically appears more flamboyantly attired, often in a bee-striped tutu. “It’s pretty hard to ignore people when they are walking around in bee suits,” Rob said.
Rob has drawn some of the distinctive images they use, including a stylized queen bee with a crown, while Chelsea is the source of much of their playful creativity. “I mean this in the most positive way. She’s a drama queen,” Rob said. “A drama queen bee?” Chelsea shot back.
The McFarlands first sought approval for residential beekeeping from their neighborhood council in Mar Vista, devising an approach that included a four-month feasibility study and extensive community outreach.
“Their energy, their happiness with which they have approached this is so amazing,” said Maritza Przekop, a Mar Vista Community Council member who has worked with them. “They have just jumped over every obstacle.”
Endless meetings, it turned out, are Chelsea’s forte, although Rob joins her for some. “She has the sort of endurance and toughness,” Rob said. “I’d rather get stung by a hive of bees.”
Neighborhood council members, used to dealing with irritated constituents, tend to be startled and pleased by the McFarlands. At a committee meeting of the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council, the two, finishing each other’s sentences, answered questions about wasps, feral hives, stings, allergies, industrial agriculture, swarms, why bees are disappearing, laws in other cities and tainted honey.
Besides Mar Vista, the McFarlands have won support from the neighborhood councils of Del Rey, Greater Griffith Park, South Robertson, Silver Lake, Hollywood United, Atwater Village and West L.A.
And they won Rosendahl’s admiration. “They’re both very positive spirits. They both take this seriously, and I enjoy that,” said the councilman, who can extemporize eloquently about the role the endangered honeybee plays in pollinating flowers, fruits and vegetables, and in making honey and beeswax.
The trouble with honeybees, of course, is that they can sting and some people are extremely allergic.
“That is a huge issue,” Rosendahl said, adding that any ordinance will have to deal with the issue of neighbors. “Education is part of the process. A bee doesn’t come after you unless you somehow disturb them.”
Nearly every weekend, the McFarlands can be found somewhere talking up honeybees.
On one sunny-warm, breezy-cool, everything-blooming day, Rob stood behind a table with a display case filled with bees scurrying around a honeycomb, explaining their highly complex habits.
“I’m sorry,” interrupted Donna Salvini, who lives in Venice and has an organic garden she said is frequented by honeybees that just calmly hang out. “I just find that insanely exciting.”
“It is, it is,” Rob said.
“Because there’s really nothing more magical,” Salvini said. “I mean they just do so much.”
Hotels get into beekeeping business- LA Times
Upscale hotels are using on-site beehives to bring locally sourced honey to guests and to save dwindling colonies of honeybees…
From Honolulu to Paris and from Vancouver, Canada, to the Florida Keys, honeybees have taken up residence on hotel ledges, rooftops and balconies and are busy doing what they do best: pollinating plants and making honey.
The hives are part of a beekeeping movement that has a two-fold purpose: to save the species, which has been decimated by colony collapse disorder; and to bring hyper-local honey to guests staying at these hotels.
Urban beekeeping has been growing in popularity for several years. Opéra Garnier, the Paris opera house, has kept hives humming on the roof for more than a quarter of a century.
The Obamas hopped on the bandwagon earlier this year when they served White House Honey Ale, home-brewed by their chefs with honey from the White House beehive.
But the loudest buzz comes from the hospitality industry, where hoteliers have found on-site beehives another prong in the movement to localized sourcing. Hotels are adding beehives to their properties to produce organic honey for use in a variety of areas, from spa treatments to cocktails.
At the Montage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah — the Beehive State — dandelion and lavender honeys are popular and are served at Buzz, the resort coffee shop (montagedeervalley.com).
Eighteen Fairmont Hotels have added apiaries, mostly on rooftops. At the Fairmont Washington D.C., the hives are named Casa Blanca, Casa Bella and Casa Bianca; at the Fairmont Newport Beach, executive chef Chad Blunston works with beekeepers to extract honey for use in Bambu Restaurant; and at the Fairmont San Francisco, 50,000 honeybees produce honey to be used at the afternoon tea service.
Last month I stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver, British Columbia, where I could look down from my 20th-floor room and see six hives — and about half a million bees — in the center of a third-floor balcony herb garden. The bees quietly went about their business within 20 feet of the hotel pool and within 50 feet of the mammoth Vancouver Convention Centre. Meanwhile, I snacked on a selection of the hotel’s delicate honey truffles, Bee’s Knees. In the dining room, I found a small jar of honey on the table at breakfast.
Despite the interest in saving bees, their numbers continue to dwindle.
In March, the United Nations sounded the alarm, seeking international efforts to save bee colonies, which have declined as much as 85% in some areas, particularly the industrialized Northern Hemisphere, according to a report by the U.N.’s environmental agency.
The causes: pesticides, air pollution, parasites, the loss of flowering plants and a decline in beekeepers in Europe.
“The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations’ Environment Programme.
“The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.”
In the greater scheme of things, the hoteliers’ beekeeping efforts probably aren’t “a blip on the radar for honey production or pollination input,” said Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine.
“But the promotional value far outweighs the practical application value,” he added. From the standpoint of the beekeeping community, the hotel trend is appropriate because “it keeps honey bees in front of people all the time, and featured in a very positive light.”
The bottom line, Flottum said: “The hotel wins, the bees win, beekeeping and beekeepers win, the local flora thrive, folks who never thought about where their food comes from get a little insight into that side of the business. It’s all good.”
John Russo, the beekeeper at Carmel Valley Ranch, couldn’t agree more. He runs a program there called the Bee Experience that introduces guests to beekeeping. “When people get enthused about the bees, and want to have their own hives, I feel like I’ve made a few more converts,” he said. “That’s a terrific feeling.”
Help us save the honey bees!!
Your contribution directly supports the educational outreach, community action and advocacy efforts to protect the health and well-being of honey bees. HoneyLove is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Your donation is 100% tax-deductible.