In Defense of Urban Beekeeping

Beekeeping is an ancient human practice, with some anthropological evidence suggesting that primitive forms of honey bee domestication go back more than 4,000 years. Apiarists have perfected their techniques and mankind’s honey pot hath overfloweth ever since. While industrialized commercial beekeeping dominates the honey market in the United States, apiculture has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to the so-called “urban homesteading movement.” Urban homesteaders are back-to-the-landers, but the land at issue is located in dense cities rather than rural areas.

Advocates and practitioners of this lifestyle ran into problems recently, as they discovered that several major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, specifically prohibited the keeping of bees within city limits. Other cities created land-use restrictions, such as minimum lot size requirements, that effectively prevented legal beekeeping. “Public health” was the reason most often given, even though experts agree that beekeeping poses few, if any, public health risks (and it may, in fact, provide public health benefits). Essentially, irrational fears of urban bee swarms attacking school children, or something equally absurd, drove the implementation of these regulations.

Recently, however, as the urban homesteading movement and fears about colony collapse disorder have grown, more people have been questioning the validity of these restrictions. New York City reversed its position on beekeeping earlier this year, and many cities have been following suit. There are still holdouts, but their numbers are dwindling in the United States.

To me, this is a pure property rights and individual liberty issue: residents should be free to keep bees, provided they do so in a responsible manner that doesn’t interfere with the rights of their neighbors. Unfortunately, I’m not sure many of the urban homesteaders would agree. A large chunk of the movement is made up of authoritarian “sustainability” advocates and eco-alarmist Luddites, many of whom support increasing the size of the federal environmental police state through destructive and perverse “green” policies designed to fight climate change or whatever bogeyman keeps them up at night this week. “Consumerism” is also, of course, a big no-no. (To be fair, some of them oppose state coercion.) In fact, The New York Times today ran an op-ed where the author wrote,

Nevertheless, there are still significant obstacles to city beekeeping, and it’s uncertain that, without the government’s help, it will reach beyond a relatively limited stratum of committed New Yorkers.


So what can City Hall do? For starters, like other cities in the United States and overseas, New York could support urban beekeeping through small grants, through tax incentives for both beekeepers and building owners, through public education programs and by getting hives into city schools as educational and perhaps fund-raising tools.

Yes, that’s right: he claims tax dollars should be used to promote his hobby and lifestyle choice. Again, I have no problem with the practice of urban homesteading, whether agriculture, apiculture, or aquaculture. It’s the idea that society should be guided by a bunch of paternalistic eco-ideologues that annoys me.