Sunday, August 5, 2012

Wrapping up: what do I do with all this great info?

          So when I wrote my proposal for this project forever ago (in May, time has flown), I originally said that I wanted to write a final paper at the end to summarize my work. But now that I have all this great information in front of me, it feels like a paper wouldn't be a very effective use of it. I'm still going to summarize my work in a short paper, but I want to do something more meaningful with it.

          I would like to create something that's sleek and graphic, that concisely tells beginners how to become urban beekeepers. I've read a few full-length books and blogs that talk about it, but I'm not satisfied with that and want to think of another way.

          A brochure?
          A booklet?
          A big poster to display at farmer's markets and beekeeper's meeting?

          Please let me know if you have an idea for how I could effectively reach those interested in urban beekeeping. Also, let me know if you know of a good program to make these great graphic things in!

How does local honey compare to storebought?

            Compared to the delicious waterfront feeding frenzy of Smorgasburg and Manhattan’s crowded Union Square Greenmarket, McGolrick Park Farmers Market is pretty low-key. 

            McGolrick Park is in Greenpoint (near Eagle Street Rooftop Farm and Hayseed’s Farm Supply) in a Polish part of the neighborhood. The market happens on Sundays from 11am-4pm and takes up the sidewalk along half a block on the side of the park, with only about 10 vendors when I was there. Most of it was produce, but the Brooklyn Grange was there selling honey.

The only picture I took at McGolrick Park. The market was pretty simple, just 10 or so tents on the sidewalk like so.

            I sat on a bench across from their stall and simply watched the goings-on as they finished up their day. A few people came by and bought veggies and honey, and they were cutting some good deals since it was close to the end. They also talked about how their booth, at the very end furthest from the street corner where most people probably enter the market, was not ideal. Compared to the business I saw them doing at Smorgasburg, McGolrick Park was rather unspectacular. 

            I chose this location to sample honey prices in grocery stores and compare them to the Grange prices at the market, to try to understand what type of investment buyers would have to make to buy local honey over non-local. Here’s some things I noticed:

Number of varieties/sizes—Market name
3—McGolrick Park Market
7—Organic Valley Market (>0.1 mi)
12—Rachel’s Corner (0.3 mi)
17—Busy Bee Grocery (>0.1 mi)

Two price samples (per ounce)—Market name
—McGolrick Park Market
$1.62/$0.64—Organic Valley Market (>0.1 mi)
$0.32/$0.09—Rachel’s Corner (0.3 mi)
$0.33/$0.31—Busy Bee Grocery (>0.1 mi)

            Even compared to the organic grocery store, the Grange honey is almost twice as much per ounce. They also only sell two sizes (4 oz. and 9 oz.) as well as comb, whereas the other stores sell many more sizes and brands which are mostly bigger (usually 12 oz. or 1 lb.)

            I’m working on compiling this information into something I can include in my paper. It goes to show that NYC honey is still generally for those with disposable income and an interest in eating locally. The Grange is the largest commercial apiary in the city too, which means that their prices are pretty much the best you can get for rooftop honey. But as the local food movement becomes more mainstream, we’ll see if these great local goods can ever come into the range of affordability for those without disposable income. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bees, Bloomberg and Food Stamps at Union Square

I could see the beehives on the roof from the stall where their honey was being sold, in the middle of Manhattan.

            If I was forced to choose one thing that made New York so special to me, it would be how easy it is to stumble upon really cool things. All kinds of things. I saw Snoop Dogg while I was in Times Square. I saw Ben Stiller near Central Park. I chanced to see a big Japanese drumming performance in Bryant Park. And when I was in Union Square at the Greenmarket, I got to see Mayor Bloomberg make a speech about expanding food stamps to all farmers markets in the city. 

            Union Square Greenmarket happens Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8am-6pm, so it’s one of the most accessible markets I’ve visited in New York. It takes place (guess where)… in Union Square Park (map), which is a great location because of its proximity to Midtown and Village tourist destinations and because so many trains stop at that 14th St-Union Square stop. 

Union Square Greenmarket on a Monday afternoon.

            By the way, I don’t know why I haven’t posted this before, but this is where I get all my information about NYC farmers markets: They have locations, hours, vendor lists, and special events of every farmer’s market in the city. Really great resource. 

            I went to Union Square to see Andrew Cote, a well-known Manhattan beekeeper and founder of the NYC Beekeeper’sAssociation who works closely with the NYPD on swarm removal and gets a lot of attention from the NY Times and other big press outlets. He created a buzz in the NYC beekeeping world with his opinion about swarms in the NY Times in late May. When a swarm he traced to the Bowery Poetry Club was captured, Cote claimed that the bees swarmed because they were abused by the BPC. Bees swarm by raising a second queen in the original hive and then sending half the population with the old queen to a new location as a means of expanding their population, but Cote’s point was that the bees were forced to swarm by the owners not providing enough hive space for them, so they “became homeless.”  Other beekeepers maintain that swarming is a natural process that has nothing to do with maltreatment. 

Andrew Cote at this Union Square stall. He had the best signs of all the vendors, and his stall was popular.

           I was in email correspondence with Cote before I came to the city, and he told me to ask for an interview when I got there. When I asked for one, he wanted to know what the interview was for, so I told him it was for an undergraduate research project. No answer after that. 

            I came to his stall at the Union Square Greenmarket, and chatted a bit. He had many different jars with many different types of honey all bearing his black & white label saying “Andrew’s Honey,” but the ones that caught my eye were medium-sized jars with spray-painted tops and Sharpie-written locations like “East Village” and “Brooklyn” on them. One said Union Square on it, and Cote pointed over my head to a rooftop facing the park; on top of it were two hives! I could see them from the stall! I asked him if I could take a picture of his honey and Cote said “Is this for a blog? I’m so tired of blogs.” Well, it is. Sorry, man. 

Andrew Cote's location-based jars of honey, along with whipped and cinnamon honey and beeswax soap.

            I also talked to David Graves of Berkshire Berries, another local honey-selling stall at the Greenmarket. Berkshire Berries is based in Becket, Mass.  but David keeps hives around Manhattan. He told me about a hive he keeps on top of a prominent New York hotel, and when I asked which one he said he couldn’t tell me; “I can take you there to see it, but I can’t tell you the name of it,” he said with a laugh. I bought a tiny $5 jar of his NYC rooftop honey, and he gave me some worksheets geared for kids about his urban beekeeping. 

            I kept walking down the stalls, and then I saw a crowd of people and a bunch of police officers surrounding cameras and microphones. It was Mayor Bloomberg (who is indeed as short as they say) giving a speech!

Mayor Bloomberg (in pink) and other officials. "Use Your Food Stamps Here & Get MORE."

He was talking about how every greenmarket in New York City will now accept food stamps. It’s part of a city-wide initiative to address obesity, especially childhood obesity. Bloomberg and other public officials gave statistics about obesity and farmer’s markets and how far the city has already come, and then Bloomberg summarized the whole speech in Spanish, which I thought was very cool.  Then he opened up to questions from the press (both official and unofficial), which were mostly about the sugar drink size limit initiative. Bloomberg was remarkably combative with people, mocking their questions and talking over them, but I guess that’s what a NYC mayor must do. 

I left after his speech, but I came back to the Greenmarket several times, including a fruitful 4th of July visit with my parents to get some lovely American-looking produce. I noticed the Food Stamp tents around the market too. Making healthy, local produce available to our citizens who couldn’t otherwise afford it makes me proud to be an American.

Our red, white & blue produce (plus squash and greens!)

Eagle Street above it all

            There’s a really great book I found in the UNC library called BreakingThrough Concrete by David and Michael Hanson and Edwin Marty that documents 12 urban farms across the country with descriptions, photos, and how-to’s. The cover of the book shows a young woman in old farm clothes standing in a farm, against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. That woman is Annie Novak and she’s at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. 

Breaking Through Concrete cover, featuring Eagle Street's Annie Novak, a well-known urban farm activist. Photo courtesy of UC Press.

            Eagle Street Farm is three stories up on top of a warehouse near the waterfront in Greenpoint. It is 6,000 square ft. and grows produce, raises chickens and rabbits, and has three beehives. They were the first rooftop farm in New York City to have an on-site CSA, and they also do community outreach and education through workshops on topics like cooking locally, composting, green roofs and urban beekeeping. Annie Novak is the Farm Manager and has become a big name in the urban farming community through a strong media presence, including not only Breaking Through Concrete but other print outlets like the New York Times and dozens of other papers and magazines, national news coverage like the Today Show and CBS Evening News, and documentary and radio stories too. 

            While Eagle Street Farm is going international with their message, they’re also staying true to it by hosting an open house, volunteer day, and farmer’s market at the farm every Sunday of the growing season. That’s where I found them, one sunny Sunday afternoon in July. The part of Greenpoint the Farm is located is full of trendy alternative cafes and boutiques, but as you approach the warehouse district near the waterfront the streets empty out. So when I approached the blank side of the building where my GPS said Eagle Street was located, I was confused… until I saw the little sign saying “farm upstairs.”

If I hadn't seen this, I definitely would have thought I was in the wrong place!

            I walked cautiously through the seemingly empty warehouse until I came into a room where a farm employee was standing at a table with baskets of greens, spices, and vegetables. She told me to walk outside and up more stairs, where I could volunteer or just hang out. The farm is small, but big as far as rooftop agriculture goes, and there were about 15 people volunteering (the project was setting up stakes to support the pepper plants) led by a few farm employees. 

The Manhattan skyline from Eagle Street Farm. It looks just like the book cover.

Volunteers staking the pepper plants. It's not hard to volunteer, you just have to walk in the door!

            At the far edge of the farm is a chicken coop, a flower garden, and a deck with chairs and benches. The 3 beehives are next to the stairs entering the farm, but they’re on another roof not accessible to the public. They have two traditional Langstroth hives and one top-bar hive (which I did not see); Langstroth hives are the ones we’re used to with the four-sided, vertically stacked frames and pre-made comb for the bees to start with, while top-bar hives don’t have frames but instead have one bar from which the bees hang their comb, and they're usually long and horizontal. By the way, guess who Eagle Street’s beekeeper is? Meg Paska from Hayseed’s!

Eagle Street's hives, set apart from the accessible part of the farm (probably for our protection and the bees too)

            After I hung out on the roof a bit, I went back downstairs to the market area. The young woman there was also a farmer, and she could speak from experience about all the food on the table, especially with giving advice to people on how to prepare it. Sadly, they didn’t have any honey for sale that day. I bought some assorted greens ($3 for ¼ lb.), which I took home in a plastic grocery bag that was in my backpack. They later became several tasty salads, which were especially tasty when I thought about the bright New York City sun, the constant gentle breeze from the East River, and pollination from the Eagle Street honeybees that made them possible.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012


            One of my absolute favorite things about North Carolina is our State Fair, and I have to admit that one of my favorite things about the State Fair is the food. It’s delicious, but it’s greasy, questionable in origin, and basically all tastes the same. If only there were a place with those same rows of food vendors, but they would sell tasty, diverse ethnic food made from local ingredients… add a backdrop of the Manhattan skyline over the East River, and you’ve got the Smorgasburg Market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

            Smorgasburg calls itself “a Brooklyn flea food market,” but that description really doesn’t do this place justice. It’s in Williamsburg on the waterfront in an empty lot that’s about half a block long, at the East River Ferry North Williamsburg terminal. Smorgasburg is one of the many markets under the umbrella of the Brooklyn Flea (founded 2008), which organizes markets in Brooklyn and Manhattan all year long. Smorgasburg has 75-100 vendors every Saturday from 11am-6pm, all food or food-related items. 

The Manhattan skyline over the East River taken at Smorgasburg.

            I went to Smorgasburg the first time because one of the vendors is the Brooklyn Grange, the largest rooftop farm in NYC and as far as I know, the largest apiary in the city too.  Along with bundles of fresh greens and spices, iced tea and salads made from the greens, they were selling honey! 4 oz. jars for $10, 9 oz. jars for $18, and best of all, 8 oz. of comb for $15. I already knew about the comb because they posted about it on their Facebook page (saying they had a very limited amount) so I picked some up as soon as I got there.   

           The people at the Grange stand were friendly and knowledgeable about their products, and it didn’t hurt that their stall was one of the first you pass when you walk in. I got the impression they all had intimate experience in growing the food or harvesting the honey they were selling, which is a great example of how this new movement of urban farmers is re-forging the connection that’s been lost between the farm and the consumers.  

The Brooklyn Grange stand, during a relatively quiet moment.
I bet they sold a lot of iced tea that day (so hot!)

            I came back to Smorgasburg two more times before I left Brooklyn, and here’s a list of the things I ate to give you a sense of the diversity: mini turtle cheesecake, a spicy Thai noodle salad, fresh-squeezed cherimoya juice (a creamy South American fruit), ice cream sandwich made by a local cookie bakery, and Indian curry pancakes with goat cheese and figs baked in. On the last visit I brought my mom and her husband who were visiting, and we took a ride on the East River Ferry.

How could we resist taking a ride?

            My biggest impression of Smorgasburg is that if people are given the chance, they will be passionate about their food. All three Saturdays I went were during that brutal early July heat wave, but the market was packed each time, especially around 2-4pm. People were standing in lines at least 50 long for some home-made soda or barbecue brisket. The food there tastes good and makes you feel good, because you know what’s in it and where it comes from. It also supports local business and agriculture. A “flea food market” like Smorgasburg could exist anywhere that there’s enough vendors, and people will welcome it with open arms. People will be passionate about their food, and if they’re not already, they should spend an afternoon at Smorgasburg. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Bee Grows in Brooklyn

"Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard... She was all of these things and of something more." -Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

            Wow! I can’t believe it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve written an entry. My housing arrangement here in Brooklyn involves dog-sitting for a sweet chow-lab named Guinness, and this whole past week poor Guinness has been sick. This involved a lot of walks, a vet trip, and careful monitoring, so with that and other random crises (such as the death of my phone and a broken doorknob that got me locked inside the house) I wasn’t able to do much besides plan and read. This post will be about the awesome events before that, however!

Meeting Meg Paska

            Since I started researching for this project in the spring, I’ve come to know of a lot of public figures in the New York City beekeeping scene. Some of them have blogs, and through those blogs I feel like I’ve gotten to know these people a little bit. One of my favorite blogs is Brooklyn Homesteader, by urban cultivator Meg Paska. I like her blog because she’s got an optimistic and peaceful perspective, straightforward style, and her life is full of things worth reading about (even for non-farmers like myself). So when I returned to Hayseed’s, her pop-up farm supply store in Greenpoint, I was enthusiastic to meet her. 

Meg at Hayseed's. Photo: Brooklyn Homesteader
Bee tattoo on Meg's forearm. Photo: Brooklyn Homesteader

           Meg is young, friendly, tattooed, and she’s one of the few women in a male-dominated industry. I caught up with her in the Hayseed’s garden on one of their last days of the season, and while I was talking to her, she didn’t stop working. She bustled around the garden, picking off cabbage leaves that were afflicted with mold and spraying them with an all-natural pesticide before the huge thunderstorm that was rolling in imminently let loose. We talked about how unfortunate it is that some NYC beekeepers just can’t seem to get along and how ego competitions obscure the point, especially to the media. She made another interesting point about journalistic interest (including bloggers and researchers like myself): while some attention-seeking beekeepers bask in the interviews and newspaper articles, others like Meg find it exasperating. “It’s like they think they’re doing me a favor by interviewing me,” she said, when really she wishes they would just let her do her work. Proper ethnographers must struggle with this like I have, trying to get inside and learn a culture without invading or getting in the way. From my experience, the better someone is at doing something and the more integral they are to the system, the less time they have to talk to an undergrad like me. I don’t take it personally, and I’m glad they’re so committed to their work. 

From the street looking in at Hayseed's

Beekeeping supplies at Hayseed's

            After the thunderstorm broke, we moved inside to the store and continued our informal interview. Meg was in the middle of showing me some necklaces a friend made of her bees encased in resin, when another Hayseed’s employee ran up to us. “You met your goal!” she shouted, beaming. For the past month, Meg has been raising money on the website Kickstarter to build the Homestead at Seven Arrows, an educational farm and CSA in Locust, NJ. She needed $20,000 to build the infrastructure like barns and fencing, and while I was there, Seven Arrows met its goal. One person donated $10,000, doubling the project’s funding to over $20,000. 

  After that, our talk of bees and legislation was joyfully interrupted, and Meg invited me to the back room of Hayseed’s to share a Pork Slap pale ale with the rest of the crew, and so I sat in a worn wooden chair, celebrating with them in the mist blowing through the open barn doors. We talked a little more, but I shortly felt that I was overstaying my welcome in this intimate moment between Meg and her crew, so I bought some goods at closeout prices and as I walked out the door, the rain stopped. 

My purchases at Hayseed's (all 30% for the end of the season): A necklace with one of Meg's bees encased in resin, a packet of rooftop ready marigold seeds (two packets, actually), and Greenhorns edited by Zoe Ida Bradbury.

            It was exhilarating to meet someone who I consider a role model under those joyous circumstances. It was great to be there for that moment, even if it did feel a little intrusive. I learned less that day about the technicalities of city beekeeping, but more about the constant effort and tenacity it takes to cultivate, whether it’s vegetables, rabbits, mushrooms, bees, or project funding and public interest. Meg Paska is a cultivator of all of those things, and for that I respect her and sincerely congratulate her on achieving and surpassing her funding for the Homestead at Seven Arrows.