Bees formerly drew attention for their role as pesky garden marauders who wreak elbow-flapping, high knee dancing havoc on the most serene of garden parties. But bees, it seems, have turned a corner.
Not if you ask my brother Rob, who forgets his manly stoic-ness and shrieks in terror anytime a buzzing comes near his person (a reaction he has sadly passed on to his kids), but many, myself included, love bees for their honey, for their fuzzy, bumbling pollen and nectar transportation skills and because we recognize their preciousness in an increasingly hostile environment.
As I write, I am looking out my window at two small hives busy doing bee things under the first bright sunshine they've seen in days. With the help of my neighbour Phil Ellis of Phil's Bee and Honey Farm, I'm three days into parenting my new bees - which means I watch them do what they're programmed to do and make sure they don't get wet. I am already under the influence of the instinctive emotional attachment that triggers new parents of any kind, especially when assuming responsibility for any kind of delicate life. Rain, bears, temperature, and proper nutrition have consumed my thoughts for days, though it's all for naught - my bees are capable of keeping themselves healthy. They only require the basic necessities required to care for their queen - shelter and a bit of sugar water to get them through this nasty weather. That and a bear alarm called a Critter Gitter to keep Henri-Maurice - the black bear that habitually bats around our (always locked) garbage cans - out of their 'hood.
Urban agriculture - the practice of cultivating foodstuffs in cities and towns - is today not a foreign term thanks to a massive push towards sustainability propagated by farming visionaries who see a link between deteriorating farmlands, rising food prices and overall shifts in public health. In Vancouver, folks at the new Vancouver Convention Centre have dedicated roof space to four hives since 2009. The bees are strategically placed to be visible from the inside where passers by can get a feel for their management.
"It gets a lot of attention when our beekeeper (Vancouver columnist and beekeeper Allen Garr) is up there doing his thing," said Jinny Wu, communications manager for the Convention Centre.
Those hives produced 140 pounds of honey last year - up 90 pounds over the previous year - to the delight of the centre's chef, Blair Rasmussen. After a certain amount is set aside for gift jars, the rest is sent to the scratch kitchen where Rasmussen turns it into homemade gelato and marinades.
"There is definitely awareness among the public now, I don't think there is a lot of fear, there is more interest," continued Wu.
"People want to know what the bees on the roof do, where the honey goes - it's fascinating. It's a living roof and the bees help pollinate the plants and grasses, so that's exciting."
Wu is referring to the Convention Centre's six-acre living roof supporting 400,000 indigenous plants and grasses - 25 different species in all.
The Fairmont Whistler has been trying to organize a similar program, which management is hoping to implement next summer. A number of Fairmont properties are already home to beehives that produce thousands of pounds of honey annually for the hotels' kitchens while simultaneously pollinating on-site herb gardens used by chefs.
"We definitely are hoping to get bees here sooner than later, our chef here is very excited and passionate about everything local and organic and sustainable, said Fairmont Whistler's public relations manager, Jennifer Tice. "It may not happen this summer but it will hopefully happen next summer, that's what the plan is."
The benefits of small-scale local beekeeping go beyond the pounds of honey your bees will produce and the dramatically improved pollination of local plants. Keeping bees doesn't mean your property will be infested by swarms of stingers - bees keep to their assignments, which doesn't extend past gathering pollen and nectar. By contributing a little time and energy and palace in your yard, on an unused deck or on your roof, you can single-handedly slow the major worldwide decline in honeybee population. While scientists haven't pinpointed the exact cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, the urbanization of farmlands, genetically modified crops and general disregard for wild places are all likely factors.
"The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century," Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme has stated. "The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees."