A Victory for NYC Beekeepers

Goodlifer: A Victory for NYC Beekeepers

Urban beekeepers can finally emerge from the underground. New York City is all abuzz in celebration after beekeeping was officially legalized on March 16 as the NYC Board of Health voted in favor of lifting the ban in Health Code Article 161, which previously rendered beekeeping illegal. This victory comes after a long battle that started when food justice organization Just Food launched their city-wide campaign to legalize beekeeping in New York City in 2008.

Just Food worked with a coalition of beekeepers, gardeners and community members to collect signatures (3,000 were submitted to the Department of Health in the spring of 2009), and organized events to raise awareness.

NYC bees no longer have to fear the law. Bee attack graffiti by Ifone & Meres. Photo by shoehorn99, Creative Commons.

NYC bees no longer have to fear the law. Bee attack graffiti by Ifone & Meres. Photo by shoehorn99, Creative Commons.

NYC Pollinator Week in June of 2009 included a press conference and rally at City Hall, but also a Beekeeper’s Ball, a screening of Hidden Hives Tour (watch below), a honey festival and honey tastings. All these events drew a lot of attention to the cause and also made underground beekeeping quite trendy. Most importantly, during Pollinator Week, the Department of Health contacted Just Food and requested a meeting to discuss ways to amend their code to make beekeeping safe and legal in NYC — a first step toward lifting the ban.


Bees are seldom given recognition as the tiny heroes they are, and their numbers have declined rapidly of late. Nobody can predict what exactly would happen if most of the world’s bees were lost, but indications are it would not be a pretty picture. There is no replacement for the pollination work that bees do, so we need to do what we can keep them alive and well.

A well-managed colony of bees can produce as much as 100 pounds of honey per year. Bees have amazing visual recognition abilities and will learn to recognize their keepers, and they will never sting unless they feel seriously threatened. If you are planning on setting up your own hive, it will need to be registered with the city (no license is required though), and make sure to take a class to learn the ropes. If you don’t have the space, time or desire to start a hive, you could just plant something that bees like — rosemary, borage, thyme, basils, and chamomile, pretty much anything in the herb family will do — so they have somewhere to hang out. And please, refrain from swatting them with newspapers.

Urban rooftop beekeeper. Photo by oceandesetoiles, Creative Commons.

Urban rooftop beekeeper. Photo by oceandesetoiles, Creative Commons.

Last summer, I witnessed the installation of a couple of illegal beehives on a rooftop. It was very exciting, and part of that was the allure of doing something forbidden (but not too illegal). Keeping bees in New York City became a sort of renegade social protest, rewarded with tons of cred and a batch of sweet honey at the end. I hope that the legalization of beekeeping will not make this can-do spirit go away, but that it will enable more local artisans and urban farmers to take advantage of the opportunity (bees work for free!). Local honey is not only healthy and delicious, it is also said to be good for people with allergies. By eating honey that was made from the same pollen you are surrounded by and that may be giving you trouble, you are in essence self-vaccinating (without risk of mercury poisoning).

So, whether you live in New York City or not, the next time you visit your farmers market, remember to support your local beekeepers by purchasing some of their sweet wares.

Top photo: Honeybee on the High Line by anjuli_ayer, Creative Commons.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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