MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Next time you're walking around D.C., especially in more residential area, take a look up at the buildings. You probably won't notice from the sidewalks below, but a number of those rooftops up there are home to these guys.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Honeybees, living in colonies, tended by urban beekeepers. But in Washington, this rooftop hives are in a sense, underground. Zoning boards have yet to legalize beekeeping. So in this next story, producer Andrea Wenzel ventured to an undisclosed rooftop, somewhere in the district to learn what urban beekeeping is all about.
MS. TONI BURNHAM
My name's Toni Burnham. I'm an urban beekeeper. Right now, I'm picking up a bee. She's on my finger. And she decided to fly, which was an unfortunate decision on her part. She may not get home. My reason for keeping bees, when I got started at least, was primarily environmental. Pollinators (sounds like) rebel whether species for environmental degradation. When pollinators disappear, you end up with trees that aren't sucking as much carbon out of the air, trees that are not as viable as bird habitat or critter habitat. We have a hive body in front of us because it's cold and we couldn't show you the inside of a real hive. We wanted to show you what's inside the boxes. And I think Vernice could probably tell you about some of these things.
MS. ANDREA WENZEL
Yes, it's a test and she's (unintelligible) ...
MS. VERNICE WOODLAND
My name is Vernice Woodland. I'm a beginning urban beekeeper. I was interested because there's kind of this disconnect now between city residents and nature. Then you start paying attention to one bees'. And this whole little society and the scientific implications and I laughed because I have a son and when he was little I would go to the different museums in Washington. I believe it's over at the Natural History Museum, there is an exhibit where you can see the bees. And when I would go, when my child was young, it was for him.
MS. VERNICE WOODLAND
But after spending -- being introduced to beekeeping, I found myself back at the exhibit, you know, knocking three-year-olds out of the way because I wanted a better view.
Watch your step. There is a little bit of water. This is a green roof...
Each time we visited the bees, you begin to build -- and I'm not that touchy feely, but you do begin to build a relationship and you can kind of sense when they're feisty and don't want to be bothered. And you can look when they're eating. I live in a community that considered a food desert. And you always have these pictures of the yuppie who's made, you know, millions on Wall Street and now is going to -- "Green Acres," 30, 40, 50 years ago is going to go out and go back to the land. There are activities one can do on a moderate scale that can have significant impact on the environment and their lives. You can have one hive, maybe, two. Not only do you have an impact on the environment and that encourages other pollinators, but, again, you can contribute to your food stores.
I would say, you know, in a time when the economy's down, people feel that they have to make choices and there's this false dichotomy that I think some of our leaders are putting out. Or maybe are responding to from the community that there's a difference between caring about food and the environment, versus caring about jobs and crime. That somehow if you spend resources or time on one, you're taking away from the other. I'm a little disturbed right now that our legal status in D.C. may by affected a bit by the stress that people are under.
We have two different laws that bear on beekeeping in the District and they are in conflict. They're contradictory. They were not written with any knowledge of beekeeping. Beekeepers in the District aren't outlaws right now. It's about interpretation. But we're one interpretation away from trouble. And we'd like that not to happen.
I just like that connection with nature. And particularly in urban environments, I really would like for more adults and children in my community to become involved.
I love sitting outside my hive in the springtime with a cup of coffee and just watching them go. I can't tell you, I mean, it's changed the way I live in the city. When I walk down the street, I smell more stuff, because I'm like...
...that's the holly. I think all the bees are going to love that. I know it's blooming now. I know what I expect to bloom. I know what order they're supposed to bloom in and if it changes, it's very exciting. The bees gave me this. They gave this to me.
Toni Burnham and Vernice Woodland are beekeepers in Washington, D.C. Their location shall remain nameless. This piece was excerpted from WAMU's new global affairs series, "Latitudes." You can hear more tales of beekeeping and other urban agricultural adventures from D.C. to Kabul on "Latitudes" starting Wednesday, February 16th at 9pm. And for more on beekeeping in the Washington area, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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