like Facebook follow Twitter watch YouTube subscribe RSS Feed
Tag Archives | newspaper

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

COMIC: Hagar The Horrible by Chris Browne 

“To be or not to be… that is the question”
“Who’s that?”
“Sounds like a guy trying to decide whether or not he wants to raise bees…” 

Read full story · Posted in Uncategorized

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 created a sprawling social media presence to promote bees. Besides a dot-org website, HoneyLove is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Change.org, Tumblr, Pinterest, MeetUp, you name it.

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.”
 

[click here to read the article on latimes.com]

SIGN OUR PETITION TO LEGALIZE URBAN BEEKEEPING IN LOS ANGELES!!

Read full story · Posted in Uncategorized

HoneyLove was featured in the Palisadian-Post!!

Click here to read the article!

Read full story · Posted in Uncategorized