Shortly after opening Milk & Honey
in West Philadelphia, owner Annie Baum-Stein partnered with bee farmer Trey Flemming, owner of Two Gander Farm
and Apiary in Fleetwood, Berks County. Together they piloted “Summer in the City Honey,” a hyper-local bee farming effort that became Urban Apiaries
. At the time, Baum-Stein had a few hives on her store rooftop, but wanted to increase the honey production while drawing attention to urban beekeeping.
To encourage bee keeping in the immediate residential community, Baum-Stein and Flemming offered to tend to the bees on host plots. They thought they’d find a few interested neighbors—35 volunteered.
“After that first year we realized how viable the concept was,” Baum-Stein says.
Urban Apiaries helps sustain local beekeeping by selling the tasty byproduct. After discovering Philly has a growing interest in urban beekeeping, Flemming and Baum-Stein commercially re-envisioned Summer in the City as Urban Apiaries and have partnered with businesses citywide, including Feast Your Eyes Catering, Paradiso Restaurant, The SHARE warehouse, Weavers Way and Le Meridien Hotel, placing apiaries—plots with three or more hives—on their rooftops. Flemming tends to the bees at all seven apiary sights and collects the honey which is sold at Milk & Honey and several local markets.
“The environmental concern about rural farming is mono-cropping and the overuse of pesticides,” Baum-Stein says. ‘In urban areas there’s a much greater diversity of flora and a great deal less pesticide use.
Flemming was Milk & Honey’s first supplier. Baum-Stein recalls her first taste of Two Gander Honey as "the best I'd ever had." She soon learned from Flemming that the proximity of genetically modified corn from a neighboring farm was affecting his bees. Flemming, who has raised bees for more than 30 years, believes GMO crop contamination is contributing to hive collapse. Even though bees don’t pollinate corn, they can return to their hives with genetically modified pollen trapped in their wings. The city-raised bees, by contrast, were more resilient and more productive.
Bee keeping is on the rise in Philly. It’s difficult to get the exact number of registered hives, but the Philadelphia Bee Keepers Guild reports their membership has increased by 30 percent in three years. Anecdotally, Baum-Stein says more city dwellers are tending to hives these days.
Real honey is like wine. Urban apiaries is chemical free, unheated and minimally processed. It's complex and subtle flavors depend on season and the combinations of flora available at specific locations. Baum-Stein labels her honey according to zipcode.
“Sampling honey just a block away was an incredible difference,” Baum-Stein says. “I knew there were varieties of honey, but I had no idea it varied from hive to hive.”
Regardless of how delectable the end-product, Baum-Stein says Urban Apiaries is really about supporting the continued survival of bees.
“We really wanted to create a product that got people thinking and talking about what’s going on with bees, what’s going on with sustainability, and the real positive possibilities of what you can do in urban environments,” she says. “Bee keeping is so fascinating, it’s intoxicating.”
DANA HENRY is Innovation & Jobs News Editor for Flying Kite. Send feedback here.
All photographs by EVAN ROBINSON