New York City’s beekeeping boom

Checking a hive at Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm. (Photo: Anastasia Cole Plakias for Brooklyn Grange)
New York City beekeeping
Checking a hive at Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm. (Photo: Anastasia Cole Plakias for Brooklyn Grange)

It sounds improbable, but this summer, if you visited one of Brooklyn Grange’s rooftop farms in Queens or Brooklyn, you probably didn’t even notice the 60,000 to 80,000 workers toiling away to produce one of the farm’s sweetest crops.

That’s because those workers were bees, busily churning out close to 1,000 pounds of honey within their hives this year.

“It was a really good season in New York, the best in a decade, according to the ‘beeks’ who have been active in the city for that long,” says Chase Emmons, Brooklyn Grange’s apiarist.

Apiarist and “beek”—or “bee geek”—by the way, are both terms used for beekeepers, of which there are an increasing number all over New York City, especially since the city made beekeeping officially legal in 2010 (although many people had hives before then).

This September, the city’s fourth annual Honey Fest in Rockaway Beach expanded to become NYC Honey Week, with events throughout the city. There are now hives on the rooftops of the Waldorf Astoria, Brooks Brothers’ Midtown store, and a prep school on the Upper West Side. Unlikely as it is, while bees across the country are disappearing due to a serious problem with Colony Collapse Disorder, the concrete jungle is experiencing a honey boom.

Why all the buzz?

Brooklyn Grange’s founding partner and VP Anastasia Cole Plakias says that a growing interest in urban farming and reconnecting with our food production system has stoked a lot of the interest. “Bees are at the very forefront of that system, so they’re a great gateway agricultural enterprise, and they’re an incredibly space efficient option for urban dwellers,” she says.

New York City beekeeping
Chase Emmons installing a colony of bees. (Photo: Anastasia Cole Plakias for Brooklyn Grange)

Plakias and her team have started offering a beekeeping training program as well as workshops on bees for both kids, through the City Growers program, and adults. “They’ve proven to be one of our most popular workshops offered!” she says.

And sweet, mineral-rich honey is a product tons of people get excited about, from health experts to foodies and chefs.

At the Waldorf, for example, chef David Garcelon had beehives installed on the roof almost as soon as he took over the famed hotel’s kitchen. “Honey is so versatile, we use it everywhere,” Garcelon explains. “We have a great wild mushroom soup that we finish with a bit of honey, we make salad dressings, it’s great on chicken, we do honey ice cream. All kinds of things, you name it.”

This fall, he partnered with Finger Lakes brewery Empire Brewing to create a honey-spiked beer, Waldorf Buzz, and he even shares some honey with the hotel’s Guerlain Spa, for use in spa treatments.

Waldorf Astoria beehives
Hives share space with an expansive rooftop garden at the Waldorf, where kale blooms and bees buzz in the shadow of the Empire State Building. (Photo: Lisa Elaine Held for Well+Good)

Of course, Brooklyn Grange apiarist Emmons says you can’t forget about those aforementioned workers, who also need a little honey of their own, especially this time of year.

“We always leave a significant reserve of honey for the bees to get through winter, more than maybe the average beekeeper would,” he says. “A hive that survives winter will produce much more honey in the following season than one which was just started that spring.” That’s good news, since it doesn’t seem like New Yorkers’ appetite for the sweet nectar will abating any time soon. —Lisa Elaine Held

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