By Hess Sahlollbey
As urbanization continues to shift world populations from rural areas to major cities, a social movement has been growing where urban residents perform their own farming. These urban farming enthusiasts eschew processed foods and manufactured products in favour of cultivating and harvesting their own food.
While small urban patches for fruits and veggies are often visible around the city and backyard chickens are nothing new, urban bee-farming businesses like Hamilton’s Humble Bee have been expanding their hives into all of the regions and neighborhoods across the city.
The Honeybee team, originally founded by Luc Peters and now co-owned by Dan Douma, has more than 20 years of beekeeping experience. What started as small project in a backyard has now seen their urban bee farming business almost doubling every year and on the verge of reaching 200 hives by the end of this year.
“We brought the bees back into the city so that they could thrive and grow again and do what they are supposed to do,” explained Douma. He entered beekeeping field after he became frustrated with the rampant use of pesticides in commercial honey production and unsustainable agricultural practices.
“It’s out of necessity that we did this,” said Durma. “We want to keep the bees alive and it’s too depressing to keep these bees on farms where they rapidly die off.”
Humble Bee is currently located in the Cotton Factory, a transformed industrial building from the 1900s.
From their space the duo offer beekeeping lessons, sell tools and beekeeping equipment as well as soothing sprays, lip balms and candles. The roof of the building doubles as their apiary, a place where Peters and Douma aim to open more rooftop apiaries throughout the city.
The duo have set their sites on McMaster as a location for one of their future apiaries.
While they have previously had colonies behind McMaster in Cootes Paradise, Peters and Douma would like to potentially house them on the universities’ roof. They also plan to launch a series of free workshops for Mac students interested in taking the plunge into bee farming.
The classes that the duo teaches, which are in high demand and consistently sold out, hammer in the basics of beekeeping and the essentials to keep a healthy and prosperous colony. Their seminar covers all aspects of the colony from workers, drones and the queen all the way up to the macro environment.
The equipment required to keep bees were all on display and the duo covered the costs involved in starting a hive as well as the Ontario Bees Act, which sets the rules for beekeeping in Ontario including registering your bees and passing an apiary inspection program.
Hobby beekeeping and urban agriculture also has a strong and growing following allowing farmers to connect with other urban farming enthusiasts.
“Our motto is that the bees come first over everything and we are not about to risk our bees for profit,” said Peters. The team’s approach to is always to make more out of a few hives, rather than have a lot of hives that barely produce and are barely looked after.
Currently their Humble Bee honey can be bought at the Mustard Seed Co-op grocery on store on York Boulevard, where a colony can also be prominently spotted from the street.
"It’s out of necessity that we did this. We want to keep the bees alive and it’s too depressing to keep these bees on farms where they rapidly die off.”
Dan Douma, Humble Bee, Co-owner
“One of our big goals is to have hyper local small batch honey where we’re moving towards labelling everything according to the neighborhood it was produced in,” said Douma. “Ideally we would have one bee yard in every neighborhood of the town and that neighborhood listed on the label”.
The duo have also worked with a non-profit in Toronto called FoodShare which is focused on providing fresh food to underserviced neighborhoods and working with urban farms to create job opportunities in big cities for people recovering from mental health issues.
The duo aim to start their own FoodShare branch that would allow them to be more involved in the community. The program would allow people to heal, recover and grow emotionally and spiritually alongside the urban agricultural spaces that they maintain and toil in year-round
This move in urban and hobby farming is one where everybody wins in the city as it ensures more pollination, homegrown food and healthy bees in the city.
Raising bees takes years of dedication, yet this group is somehow able to do this in a parking lot beside a helicopter pad here at McMaster.
Along with Macdonald, Amina Suhrwardy is the second co-founder of the Hamilton Urban Beekeepers, an initiative that began in late 2012. The hope is that people will understand the basics of honeybee biology, have discussions, and raise sustainable living awareness.
“[It] is a great network for people to become connected with each other,” said MacDonald.
This past summer was the first season for the bees. The beekeepers invited people from campus and throughout the Hamilton community to visit the hives. They put on demonstrations, such as hive building, teaching people the components of a beehive, and harvesting honey. Since there was only one hive during this inaugural summer, there was not an viagra no prescription abundance of honey, but they were still able to sell out during October’s Sustainability Day on campus.
MacDonald and Suhrwardy met through the Ontario Public Interest Research Group at McMaster. OPIRG has funded this working group, and awarded them the annual Public Interest Grant, which helped to propel this initiative to fruition.
In addition to providing funding, OPIRG helps with the Hamilton Urban Beekeepers outreach program, as well as assisting them when hosting events and finding guest speakers.
The Academic Science Fund through the McMaster Science Society also funds the project. Some of the great contributors to this working group are students from McMasters new Sustainable Future program.
Mark Lee, Mark Westerink, Nashwa Khan and Anna Iwanicki are part of the Sustainable Future program and they aid with the outreach of the group, through Twitter, a blog, knowledge of urban beekeeping through information boards.
The beekeeping program is also going to be helping McMaster departments with the assistance of Biology professor, Dr. Marvin Gunderman, and Psychology professor, Dr. Reuven Dukas. These professors use the beehive to educate their students about bees and pollinators.
Guelph University has a formal Apiculture, or beekeeping, program with a research center. The Hamilton Urban Beekeepers is more informal than Guelph’s program, since the spatial limitation of its current location will prevent it from exceeding a maximum of five beehives. The purpose of the program is not to maximize honey production, nor is it meant to teach people about how to become beekeepers, as this takes years to accomplish. Instead, it is about keeping healthy bees and teaching people about the necessity of bees in our ecosystem.
Communicating the importance of sustainable living is another function of the beekeeping program. A challenge that the program faces is connecting the way in which people spend their money and how that affects beekeeping. When you buy food from certain places, you either support good farming or bad farming. Becoming aware of what you can do to support your local community and not support the use of detrimental items, like pesticides, is very important. As Brandi said, “it’s about how you spend your money,” something that people rarely consider when purchasing an item as simple as honey.
The Hamilton Urban Beekeepers will be hosting a luncheon event on Thursday, Nov. 14 at 12:30 p.m. in room 230 in the McMaster University Student Center. Free Fair Trade coffee and tea will be provided by OPIRG. These events will be happening weekly throughout November and December. You can find out more about these events at www.opirg.ca.