One of the biggest difficulties with getting the public to take Colony Collapse Disorder -- the phenomenon wherein worker bees abandon their hive, causing the colony to be destroyed and most of the bees to die -- seriously, is that it conflicts with our own personal experiences.
When we head out for a picnic near the Silver Lake Reservoir, or go for an early afternoon hike through Elysian Park, our experiences with bees can be summed up thusly: Bee buzzes head, momentary annoyance at nature, bee buzzes again, subconsciously swat at it, another buzz-by, gather belongings and move into an area that isn't so overrun with bees, repeat for every bee sighting throughout the day. In short, most of our interactions with bees are a mix of with fear and irritation. So, telling a bee-fearing public we should be worried because "bees are dying" has about the same impact as trying to get donations for a Save The Cockroaches fund.
Thankfully, for the sake of our planet's food supply, not everyone feels so hostile to our tiny black and yellow friends. And some of these bee-savers are here in our own backyard.
This great piece from California Report relays the plight of the L.A.-based guerrilla beekeeper. The "guerrilla" comes from the fact that these urban beekeepers are working in direct refutation of L.A.'s laws; keeping bees in any residential area in Los Angeles is illegal, with the city exterminating any they find. But what the piece also points out is that the operation is "guerrilla" in another, more cerebral, way as well. These urban beekeepers are a small force taking on the near-universal, one might say instinctual, negative reaction we humans have when it comes to bees:
Anderson says most people with a bad opinion about feral bees have barely any experience working with them. "Bees are like people," he said. "Everybody has a bad day. If a beehive has a bad day, people want to have it destroyed. If a person has a bad day, they put them on Oprah."
The "Anderson" in the quote is "Kirk Anderson," one of the folks behind Backwards Beekeepers, a club that humanely removes hives and swarms from people's homes and relocates them. (The city's solution when dealing with a complaint about a hive is, as I stated, simply to eradicate it.) Along with the group HoneyLove -- founded by husband and wife team Chelsea and Rob McFarland, who are going through the petition process in an attempt to change L.A.'s legal landscape when it comes to bees -- they are the most vocal proponents in our city for the welfare of bees. Unfortunately, in a city with seemingly much bigger problems to deal with, that doesn't mean a whole lot:
"We go on right after the ordinances for much heavier topics like gangs and drugs," Chelsea said. "We go up and we're like, 'Yay bees!' and they're like, 'You guys are the most delightful ordinance we've ever had to vote on.'"
Thing is, it's not a cute issue. It's an issue that's more pressing and affects more people than both gangs and drugs. It's an issue that literally is about the food supply of our planet:
One of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a successful harvest.
The importance of this is not to be understated, and, indeed, many of our nation's urban centers have gotten the message. In the past few years alone, Atlanta, New York, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Toronto, Portland, and Vancouver have legalized urban beekeeping. In our own state, San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento have given it the go-ahead. And in L.A.'s own backyard, the cities of Santa Monica and Redondo Beach have taken steps to make permitted beekeeping allowable.
But embarrassingly, instead of being in front of this issue by embracing the possibilities that urban beekeeping provides, the city of L.A. lags behind. And until a comprehensive plan to allow the act is signed, it will continue to do so.
(Oh, and if you've got a minute, log onto Change.org and sign the petition to Legalize Urban Beekeeping in Los Angeles. See it as penance for all the bees you've swatted in your life.)
Want recipes and food news emailed directly to you? Sign up for the new Food newsletter here!