Monday, April 27, 2009

New York's right hand, meet your left - or actually, please don't

My husband the beekeeper spent yesterday at Union Square with his bees (some of them, anyhow), promoting bees and beekeeping. He'd been invited by the New York City Parks Department, which was sponsoring the event, and at least while I was there, his table was the most popular of all. People really love to look at bees.

There's a serious irony to this invitation, though. Whether the Parks Department knew this and ignored it, or didn't even know, they were inviting a law-breaker to their event. Beekeeping is illegal in New York City.

When John first took up beekeeping, that fact made both of us very nervous. Early in his career, his bees swarmed, landing on a lamppost a block away. We could see them clearly out of our back windows; we could also see the police looking up at our house as bystanders pointed us out as the people with bees. We expected the cops to come knocking at our door any minute. But nothing happened. Nothing ever has happened, even though John has been actively and very publicly promoting beekeeping - and getting a lot of press coverage - for several years now. This has got to be the least taken-seriously law in the entire New York City legal code.

It's a pretty recent law, passed - as I understand it, (and I'm not entirely sure of my facts here, so this may be an urban legend) - under the anti-nuisance regime of Rudy Giuliani, whose recognition of the importance of bees to just about every plant in the city was, I would guess, limited if not entirely non-existent. But times have changed, and now just about everyone knows not only that we need bees, but that we're losing them. A while back, Haagen-Dazs launched a public-service campaign to help the bees, as a result of which John ended up with several thousand packets of wildflower seeds to give away and a Flip video camera to memorialize it all.

More usefully, from our perspective at least, Just Food, a marvelous organization devoted to making sure New Yorkers have as many opportunities as possible to get food grown as locally as possible - is spearheading a campaign to make beekeeping legal. (Just Food also helps people learn to keep chickens - but not roosters. They're illegal in New York too.)

As a result of all this political activity, John and his still-illegal hobby are getting even more attention. He and his bees will be at the Brooklyn Food Conference this Saturday, entertaining kids, informing adults, and giving everyone a chance to play Find the Queen (it ain't easy). The conference is food-star studded (Anna Lappe, Dan Barber, Nina Planck, Raj Patel) and free, so if you are in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello.


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