Tale of an Urban Beekeeper
With America’s bee population in decline, the distinct cacophony of a swarm of bees is a welcome sound. In many ways, bees are the backbone of an eco-system. They tirelessly patrol the land pollinating both flowers and trees and we are fortuitous enough to reap the sweetly delicious benefits of their vigorous hard work.
No one is more enthusiastic about bees or in awe of their profound role in nature than Robert MacKimmie, apiarist and founder of City Bees. When I first meet Robert he is at a local farmer’s market behind his table, which is chock full of honey sticks, jarred honey and bee keeping paraphernalia.
Robert founded City Bees in 1996 with the aim to bolster decimated bee populations and to create unique and distinctly flavored honeys from specific locations throughout the Bay Area. Robert finds sympathetic residents willing to host a few hives in their own backyard. Each location Robert installs a hive (he is adamant about only placing a couple of hives in each location as to not take too much away from the area’s resources) produces uniquely flavored honey, which is certainly apparent after tasting the samples Robert graciously hands out to his many patrons. For example, honey from Cow Hollow, a neighborhood adjacent to a mass of eucalyptus trees, produces a textured, crunchy honey. In the Castro, an area of San Francisco that receives an abundance of sun, produces a more floral, buttery smooth honey.
What began with a few hives has grown to 25 and Robert expects to create 42 more this year alone. With the city’s many valleys and hills, Robert proclaims that the Bay Area is the best region for honey because of the area’s numerous microclimates. While the Bay Area is indeed a beekeeper’s fantasy, urban or backyard bee keeping throughout the country has become popularized in recent years. From Brooklyn to Austin to even London, beekeeper enthusiasts are making a big buzz with their successful backyard hives. Robert doesn’t downplay the hard work involved with becoming an apiarist. When asked if he has any advice for aspiring beekeepers he stresses educating oneself about bees and advises wanna-bees to take courses and read up on the vocation.
After speaking with Robert it is clear that he not only has a profound love of bees, but he also takes great pride in educating bee novices like myself about the necessity of the species in our eco-system. Through selling his products at local farmers markets and traveling around to host homes to maintain the hives, Robert has become deeply entrenched in his community. According to Robert, to sit back and watch the bees fly around is “life affirming.” I have to agree.
Photo credit: _PaulS_ via Flikr
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