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Q&A: Bees in the D

You've heard about Detroit's organic food, urban gardens and grocery-store issues. But did you know about our thriving beekeepers?

Detroit beekeepers are organizing their first international city beekeeping conference this Saturday at the Detroit Waldorf School. Bee here or bee square, says Joan Mandell is one of the organizers of CityBees Detroit “All About Bees!” Mandell also is a partner in Green Toe Gardens, a city apiary, and director of the forthcoming documentary film, “Wild Detroit Honey”.

All About Bees! will introduce beekeeping in an urban environment within a northern climate. There are presenters from across the Great Lakes region, United States and Canada. Discussions will center on community development, health and food policy as well as economic and environmental sustainability. Workshops include: how to build a hive, bee gardening, honey tasting and meadmaking. Also, there will be sessions on apitherapy, honey and nutrition and biodynamic approaches.

Mandell said they are expecting a diverse audience of at least 200 participants, from the curious novice to the experienced beekeeper, from middle school student to elder citizen.

Q: Bees in Detroit? What's the story about bees here?
A: Bees are everywhere, that's the story. And Detroit is full of flowering plants and trees that attract honeybees. No one uses pesticides on the abundant weeds and trees of vacant lots; pesticides are not healthy for bees or other living things. Honey yield from our city hives is twice that of those in the suburbs.

Q: Why have the conference in the city?
A: Why not? The city is our home, the city is our hive. Bees don't have telephone area codes, traffic laws or restrict themselves to specific neighborhoods. They go where the nectar flows and we want to follow their example: to build meaningful, sustainable communities across racial, class and geographic divides. City beekeeping is an essential part of pollination and gardening, urban agriculture, community building, good food and positive buzz.

Q: How will a healthy bee population influence the quality of life in the D?
A: More bees means more vegetables, nuts, fruits and flowers for all. More plants means cleaner air. Cleaner air means healthier children. More honey, less high fructose corn syrup, less obesity. Sweeeeet!

Q: Any killer bees around these parts?
A: Sure, honeybees are really killer! They are vegetarians that spend their days collecting nectar and pollen from our flowers. They sting people only in defense, like when you accidentally step on one or grab one inside your palm or stand directly in front of the doorway to their hive. To a bee, that would be like Godzilla grabbing a mouse or stomping his foot on top of your house. Maybe you are referring to those 1950s Red Scare movies, in which swarming bees are miscast as "killer bees"? Actually swarming bees are at their most gentle, because they are temporarily homeless, looking for new digs. Or do you mean "Africanized Honey Bees" which are so far only found in semi-tropical areas. Michigan has too "killer" a winter for those bees.

Q: What else do you want people to know about beekeeping and beekeepers in Detroit/Michigan?
A: Beekeeping is fun for the whole family. If you live in a city, you can keep bees in your backyard or on the balcony. You don't need to go to the distant countryside to be in touch with nature.

Positive buzz, indeed.

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