by Joanna Shaw Flamm
On September 17th, the Rockaway Boardwalk is going to be buzzing (har har) thanks to the first annual New York City Honey Festival. Organized by the folks at Brooklyn Grange and Brooklyn Homesteader, hosted by the Rockaway Beach Club Concessions, the Festival will celebrate bees and the many people in the New York City area who keep them. Beekeeping was legalized in New York City in the spring of 2010, and since then everyone from rooftop farmers to backyard bee enthusiasts have been keeping bees and harvesting honey across the five boroughs.
We spoke with Brooklyn Grange’s Chief Beekeeper Chase Emmons about plans for the festival.
What inspired the first annual New York City Honey festival?
I was chatting with an old-school beekeeper friend, Dan Conlon of Warm Colors Apiary in Deerfield, MA, about his yearly honey festival. It totally dawned on me that since beekeeping had now been legal in NYC for a year, we needed to have an NYC Honey Festival. Since I was born & raised in Greenwich Village, I was excited to bring this type of event back to my home town.
Who and what will be at the festival? Will you have tastings? Classes? Food stands?
Anyone, everyone, and anything that has something to do with bees and/or honey. While we definitely want to feature 5-boro-specific entities and products, all are welcome. We’ll certainly have a honey tasting and a contest for honey from NYC specific hives; there will also be a honey beer tasting from Sixpoint Craft Ales and at least one local mead maker. Several food vendors will be present and the partner restaurants of Rockaway Boardwalk Concessions [including The Meat Hook-spinoff Rippers, Caracas Arepas, Rockaway Taco and more] will be featuring special items and dishes for the festival. Brooklyn Kitchen will be holding several cooking-with-honey demonstrations as well. Tim O’Neil of Borough Bees will have an observation hive on hand and give a talk on basic beekeeping for those interested in getting involved for summer 2012. Michael Leung of HK Honey will give a talk on urban beekeeping in Hong Kong as well as his unique cooperative business. At least one major beekeeping equipment company will be on hand with equipment sales, with several others having donated very nice raffle prizes. As of this writing, we’re still receiving all manner of requests from interested parties so there will be a whole lot more come Sept. 17.
What is your connection to honey? How did you get started beekeeping?
In 2002 I started my first hive up in Western MA. Within a few short years I was keeping 10 hives. In 2010 I had the great fortune of meeting the partners of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm. Soon thereafter I became a partner, Director of Business Development, and most importantly, Chief Beekeeper. Being able to bring my love of beekeeping back to the rooftops of my home town has been a wildest dream come true.
How has the legalization of urban beekeeping changed the honey scene in New York City?
I must be honest and say that I did not get involved in beekeeping in the city until after legalization, so I have to thank all the parties who fought long and hard to bring about this change. But I can say that the combination of legalization, the urban agriculture renaissance, and society’s awakening to our food system and its many shortcomings, have all combined in a perfect storm where beekeeping has become one of the hottest things in town. In some cities, backyard chickens are all the rage. In NYC it’s rooftop bees. Always leave it to New Yorkers to pick something a bit more edgy, stinging insects and all. But the greatest thing about beekeeping in NYC is that it crosses all socio-economic boundaries. With it being legal, anyone and everyone with an appropriate spot to put a hive can get involved–the cost of entry is often minimal, if not completely free. Beekeeping and honey is also ubiquitous amongst all the many cultures represented in NYC, making it something of a unique common thread. So in a nutshell, legalization has made the honey scene in NYC amazingly cool and inclusive all at once.