THE Beekeepers Ball, held Monday night at the Water Taxi Beach in the South Street Seaport, was, among other things, a lesson in coalition politics.
Benjamin Norman for The New York Times
Honey bees are shaping up to be the latest urban agricultural must-have, the new backyard chickens.
The wrinkle is that beekeeping is illegal in New York City. Fines, while rare, can run to $2,000.
The law is precisely why the nonprofit group Just Food organized the ball to kick off its Pollinator Week in the city, which includes special honey menus at restaurants and a honey festival at the Union Square Greenmarket.
Bees may be sexy; signing petitions and phoning politicians, less so. But Jacquie Berger, the director of Just Food, clearly knows the adage about vinegar and honey.
And honey was certainly in evidence at the Water Taxi Beach: honey-coated pork ribs, hot dogs with honey mustard and burgers in sliced honey-glazed doughnuts.
The beer, provided by the Brooklyn brewery Kelso, was infused with city honey and whipped up specially for the occasion. A vendor sold delicious honey-strawberry ice pops.
The proprietors of the Long Island Meadery were on hand, passing out samples of their syrupy honey wine. They usually market the stuff at Renaissance fairs and gatherings of armored re-enactors. Though new to the locavore crowd, they were definitely used to serving costumed drinkers.
John Howe’s beekeeping suit was not a costume: it was his beekeeping suit. As founder of the New York City Beekeeping Meetup Group, Mr. Howe provides an online home for beekeeping fans, and sponsors classes, bringing what he calls wanna-bees into the fold. When he started his first rooftop hive in 2002, he knew of two or three beekeepers in the city. Now, he knows of at least 40. Lately, he has been spending more time fielding calls from the news media.
So has Andrew Coté, head of the New York City Beekeepers Association. He rattled off a list of other American cities with strong, legal beekeeping scenes, and expressed indignation that New York was not among them: “We are not followers in this city!”
Meanwhile, a 5-year-old girl in a bright yellow beekeeper suit was, unbidden, quietly handing out Beekeepers Association business cards. Her brother, in a similar outfit, played in the sand. Their mother, Mara Tippett, got the suits so the children could help with the hives at her home in Neshanic, N.J.
Ms. Tippett’s sister, Anna Bridge, is on the Pollinator Week organizing committee. Ms. Bridge, a lawyer who lives in Sunnyside, Queens, doesn’t want to defy the ban. “I have to live vicariously through other people’s bees,” until the law changes, she said. Jacen Bruni, another lawyer, set up a hive on a Brooklyn rooftop this spring. “I kind of feel like the law doesn’t exist,” he said. “But it is a burden, something that hangs over your shoulder.”
Leaning against the bar, John Bernard, burly and gray-bearded, looked over the crowd. He is an apiary inspector with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. If the law does change, his job will get a lot busier — something he would relish. He has kept bees at his home in Croton, N.Y., since the early 1990s. His wife read about the ball online, and he decided to come down to check out the emerging urban scene. “It’s wonderful,” he said.
Mr. Bernard emphasized that his department had no interest in playing Big Brother. “All I want to do is keep bees alive,” he said.
As he spoke about his duties — examining queens, checking mite levels — an appreciative crowd of young beekeepers formed around him. Several expressed a longing for the kind of oversight and assistance the state offers, and were eager to talk shop.A woman asked about swarming. Swarming, Mr. Bernard pronounced, is not a problem. It’s just something bees do.
to see more photos and view a slideshow, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/dining/24bees.html