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: www.GrowNYC.org. 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!)

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