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Why We Started a Campaign to Legalize Beekeeping in Mar Vista

by Chelsea & Rob McFarland 

They say that you don’t choose to be a beekeeper — the bees choose you. So when a swarm of honeybees showed up in our garden in Los Angeles, we were unknowingly recruited into the ranks of beekeepers, an order that includes everyone from Aristotle, Luke the Apostle, Alexander the Great, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Edison — all the way through to First Lady Michelle Obama.

Our fascination quickly turned us into advocates when we learned that our city’s policy is to exterminate feral swarms of bees rather than rescue them.  Given the threat of Colony Collapse Disorder to global honeybee populations, this is not something we felt we could stand by and watch happen. That’s why we’re working to get urban beekeeping legalized in the Mar Vista section of Los Angeles, where we live.

As Albert Einstein reportedly said, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” The reason for his grim prognosis is the fact that the histories of the human species and that of the honeybee are inseparable. Neither species could have evolved to present conditions without the symbiotic relationship that we harbor. In fact, bees pollinate 80 percent of the world’s plants — including 90 different food crops — which means that one out of every three-to-four bites of food is courtesy of a bee.

Unfortunately, we have real reason to fear the specter raised by Mr. Einstein. Over the last three years, more than one in three honeybee colonies have collapsed nationwide, a phenomenon now called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. If present trends continue, scientists estimate that there will be no more bees by 2035.

So what do we do? According to Simon Buxton in the new documentary, Vanishing of the Bees, “the future of beekeeping is not in one beekeeper with 60,000 hives, but rather 60,000 people with one hive.”  And, while ironic, cities are proving to be a safer habitat than the farms and rural areas traditionally associated with beekeeping. Cities provide a pesticide-free, diverse range of forage for bees, which drastically reduces if not eliminates the need to artificially feed bees.

Since that first encounter with the honeybees in our garden, we created the Los Angeles-based non-profit Our mission is to protect honeybees and inspire and educate new urban beekeepers. We work closely with local and national organizations like the Backwards Beekeepers [led by rockstars like Kirk Anderson], where urban beekeepers learn organic beekeeping methods and how to rescue feral swarms.

We are currently working with the Mar Vista Community Council on a feasibility study, a necessary first step in our efforts to legalize beekeeping in the city. The study seeks to educate the community about the plight of honeybees, and in turn, allows us to gauge stakeholders’ interests and concerns. Our goal is to prove just how eager Mar Vista residents are to have beekeepers in the community.

So far, we’ve held public film screenings and created “swarms” at events hosted at local farmers’ markets, community council meetings, and public forums. In a matter of hours at an event at the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market, we collected more than 500 written signatures, shattering the market’s previously held record of about 250 signatures. We also have a petition on with more than 900 online signatures. You can sign on and help us urge the Mar Vista Community Council to legalize urban beekeeping.

Following the successful completion of the feasibility study, the Mar Vista Community Council will vote September 13th on whether or not to sanction an urban beekeeping pilot program. If approved, the program will pave the way for Mar Vista residents  to have the same basic beekeeping rights as their close neighbors in Santa Monica.

New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Denver, Spokane, Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, and most recently, Santa Monica have all taken decisive action and legalized beekeeping. Please add your signature to our petition and help us put the Mar Vista region of Los Angeles on that list!

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