Assignment 7

Urban beekeeping gains popularity

Friday, August 14, 2009

It may not be most people's first choice for a backyard pet, or even a hobby for that matter, but for an increasing number of people around the Bay Area, bees are all the buzz.

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Tucked away among the tightly packed backyards in San Francisco's Glen Park neighborhood is an even closer knit community.

Thousands of bees call it one home. Owner Karen Peteros is one of a growing number of urban beekeepers.

"What's so easy about it is in one sense, is you don't need much space, you can have a very small yard, you can have a piece of your deck, you can have a part of your roof," Peteros said.

Peteros is president of the San Francisco Beekeepers Association.

"The honeybee has finally got an acknowledgement about its value to, not only to our food source, but our broader ecosystem that it really hasn't had in probably the last 50 or more years," Peteros said.

Urban beekeepers like Peteros are not as unusual as one might think. Similar groups have sprung up in London, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In recent years, honeybee populations have been suffering from a mysterious ailment that destroys entire colonies of bees. Publicity about the illness has attracted world-wide attention.

In fact, there are nearly 200 members of Peteros' group, scattered throughout San Francisco.

"The San Francisco Bay Area has more beekeeping associations within 100 miles of each other than anywhere else in the United States," Peteros said.

Cameo wood opened Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper shop in June in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District in response to a growing demand for beekeeping supplies.

"Everyone always needed supplies and they'd need to drive an hour and a half or two north or south and it was really expensive and everyone kept saying, 'Somebody should open a store,'" Wood said. "I offer hives, beekeeping classes free advice and I can also pretty much order any kind of specialty tool that they might need."

Since she opened, Wood has done brisk sales, nearly wiping out her stock in just the first two weeks. Besides supplies, she sells candles made from local beeswax, and of course -- honey.

One hive can produce 100 pounds a year.

"Honey is pretty much the most ecologically efficient sweetener we have," Wood said.

It takes the pollen from 3 million flowers to make just one pound of honey. Therefore, urban honey is the essence of a neighborhood's gardens. Wood's shop is the only place a person can literally taste San Francisco.

"I don't always have every single one in stock, but I can at least do a tasting of every single neighborhood in San Francisco," Wood said.

Wood hopes that when customers leave her store they will have more appreciation for the honeybee. For urban beekeepers it opens up a new door for a bigger conversation about the importance of honeybees.

"That's part of the really fun part, is to get people turned on and excited about something that's right there in their own back yard," Peteros said.

It is relatively inexpensive to get started in beekeeping. It costs between $100 and $400 dollars.

Learn more about beekeeping in the Bay Area:

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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