02 - What would a grocery store look like without bees? ft. Hannah Baek

November 19, 2019

Hannah Baek is the Vice President of the New York City Beekeepers Association (NYCBA). She started beekeeping as a college student in 2014 and has since worked with beekeepers across the world, including France, Russia, Finland, and South Korea. The mission of the NYCBA is to provide our members with a medium for sharing knowledge and mutual interest in beekeeping, and to educate and promote the benefits of beekeeping to the world, in a forum of friendship and fun, and to do so safely and responsibly in an urban environment.

Pinar Guvenc  00:00

Hello everyone and welcome to the second episode of What's Wrong With: The Podcast. My name is Pinar Guvenc and I'm the managing partner of Eray Carbajo, an award winning Architecture and Design Studio based in New York and Istanbul, with a mission of creating concepts that address urban, social, and environmental problems. Today we're talking to Hannah Baek. Hannah is the Vice President of New York City Beekeepers Association. She started beekeeping as a college student in 2014 and has since worked with beekeepers across the world, including France, Russia, Finland and South Korea. We're so happy to have you today. Thank you for joining us. 

Hannah Baek  00:41

Yeah, I'm so glad to be here. Thank you. 

Pinar Guvenc  00:43

So please tell us how you got into beekeeping. 

Hannah Baek  00:47

Yeah, sure. So kind of funny, when I was a little kid beekeeping was one of the careers I imagined having as an adult, among a bunch of things like oceanographer and paleontologist. But out of all of them, beekeeper was the only one I actually kind of did. And in a very odd way, because I only started to get into beekeeping, actually when I moved to probably the least likely place in the world to imagine that, which is New York City. And a large reason why is I I read a book before my first year of college as a first year reading experience for all of us, that had to do with New York City's urban agricultural history, it's called "Eat the City" by Robin Schulman. And in there there's different sections about different sectors of urban agriculture and the first was honey and it was extremely exciting to me and had some very famous New York City beekeeper characters in there, including Andrew Cote who is my boss, colleague and friend now, and I was like, "Oh, I have to find this guy. I have to hunt him down and I have to work for him." So I managed to do that and started working with him at his farmers market standa for his honey business. And then after that--that would be the first year of my undergrad. And the following summer I did an apprenticeship with him through the New York City Beekeepers Association, which he is the president of. And so that's how I got started. And since then, I've been core member of the association. I'll work with Andrew, on the hive study, you have and various businesses. I've helped coordinate different events, classes, speakers, with the group, spoken to a couple of media and been kind of on hand to help with the apprentices every year so that we can have a couple of experienced people there to help out. And I've also had the opportunity to do some beekeeping in other countries through an organization called WOOF, which is "Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms". And that's just like a very interesting work exchange program. So I've sought out some bee farms in southeastern France, central Russia and central Finland. And I worked on those for a couple summers as a volunteer worker. And I've even gotten to meet other beekeepers in China and Korea. Yeah, so that's, that's how I got into it and it just kind of ballooned out from there. 

Pinar Guvenc  03:22

That is amazing and thinking, especially if all the way through your childhood, you're basically living your dream and raising awareness of it within you know, maybe the busiest city in terms of people, not necessarily bees, and also contributing in a global scape as well. So that's really cool. We honestly on the, you know, contrast of it. We sort of started to think of it maybe towards the end of last year when we were looking into, as an architecture studio, when we're looking into some of the urban matters that we were trying to address through a project we came across a terminology, insect hotel, which we never did before. And then we started looking into why these are popping up--in especially Europe--and why do they matter? And we started to learn about these incredible importance for the ecosystem in general. So, can you basically give us a little bit of information around that, and what are the problems we're facing today around that? 

Hannah Baek  04:31

Sure. Yeah. So in North America alone, I have a figure that there's about 4,000 kinds of wild bees. And then out those, 225 are found in New York City alone. So besides honey bees, there are a couple hundred different kinds of pollinators beyond these two, and so yeah, bee hotels, especially for this particular kind called carpenter bees, are very popular. They're very low maintenance. Also bat boxes. Bats are really good nocturnal pollinators for a lot of different kinds of flora. So those are Yeah, those are all kinds of different pollinators and animals that are taking care of that ecosystem for us. But it's also been shown that the populations of pollinators across the board is really dropping, and especially for honeybees in particular, I would name four basic factors that are really threatening honey bees, and pollinators too. The first one that has been extremely detrimental is the use of pesticides. So there's been a kind of a battle going through government and advocacy groups over the past several years over neonicotinoids, which is a group of pesticides or chemicals that are very commonly used in pesticides because they're non-toxic to humans and like dogs or cats, but there is feeling the effects of all kinds, including good insects and bad insects as far as from an agricultural point of view. So the what they do is they disturb the nervous systems of insects, so it makes it difficult to navigate, difficult to function. So the use of neonicotinoids is very, very detrimental to bee population. During the Obama administration, there was a ban placed on them. But as of 2018, the Trump administration has lifted that ban. So that's again now a recurring threat facing bees in the United States. Different countries throughout the world have different policies on neonicotinoids, but that's a serious threat. The next thing I would definitely mention that's kind of general and it affects a lot of pollinators is climate change. I think that's something that we've noticed a lot in New York City, even just that small beekeeping community. Something that's very important in the beekeeping season is when it starts to get cold, the bees prepare for winter, they all go into the highest form a cluster around the Queen wouldn't help everybody keep warm and they'll stay in there until they click First day of spring, but we've noticed after you, too are the possible what there's there's just fast fluctuations, pop culture. I think there was one day around Christmas a couple years ago where it was in the 70s. So that is really confusing to the bees, because it seems as if the weather has warmed and it's strange. So they will break clusters start to go out of the hive, then it gets colder again, becomes very difficult to see join the group and maintain that heat. So the changing temperatures and inconsistent winters have been very difficult. And of course, the colors are affecting how the plants grow. And that affects the nectar flow and that affects who they're able to have. So yeah, so there are many things going on climate change with us and a huge threat. And then to things that are very specific to honeybees that I would add to add to this disease has been a large problem. There's particularly disease that was really just rampant in beekeeping in every single part of the world and now except for Australia, which is called varroa mite, and it's a very, very common very difficult disease to get rid of. So, now that that's spread, basically through the ways that beekeeping practices rely on breeding more or less, it's been difficult to navigate, how do we keep our bee populations safe for life? Particularly beekeeping. And then the last thing I'd say is, you know, like myself and most people associated with the New York City Beekeepers Association. Were like hobbyists, or small scale beekeepers, maybe like 300 400 hives, but most beekeepers in United States will have thousands of hives but they truck between different large crops throughout the United States from now on in California are two alfalfa in the West. It's a very fun In the Arctic relationship between the growers of those crops and the beekeepers, but when bees are only feeding on those mono crops, it's like if you were only to eat like spaghetti every day for about a week, every day for ambitious aggressively. Yeah, it could be stressful. So I don't want to like to mean commercial beekeeping as a as a kind of agricultural sector, but it is a more difficult kind of, I don't know, lifestyle for the bees to be healthy. And so that that's, that's typical for that. But I think the other factors are what gets exacerbated in that practice of making it easy and difficult for professional peacekeepers to continue fighting, right. So there are environmental factors and they're also simply human factors that we brought into the world that are becoming stressed to the bee population. Do you think like to these like micro efforts in the cities, we can actually create more change The population is declining maybe globally or within the United States only. But do you think it is possible to start change that within city centers? I'm gonna say a bit of yes or no. So the film was because, like I mentioned, there's already a lot of different kinds of wild pollinators functioning, say in the city. And having you know, most beekeepers have, you know, between like 225, maybe my friend Andrew needs, I think he has the most of any one beekeeper in the city, but it's still only like 100 I guess, as far as the amount of pollinators you're adding to the ecosystem, it's negligible. So that's just it may not make a huge impact. But I think the bigger impacts of urban beekeeping is the awareness and the Piazza and the visibility you bring to beekeeping and pollinators in our ecosystem, because some of the biggest things that we can do or need to do to Honey bees and other pollinators in the world is through policy when the general populace feels very passionate about the plight of honeybees, the plight of other pollinators that's where policy and different companies start to get pushed for us. I've definitely seen a huge uptick in interest in beekeeping. I think these are kind of trendy right now for some reason. And, you know, not everyone's gonna really get that deep into it. But I think the general awareness that Jacqueline shared over honeybees is very good. And I think urban beekeeping has a lot to do with that. It's funny because like we're all aware of good honey right? We know when you know a brand is selling good honey or it's like actual honey today, but yes, there is a gap in terms of thinking about the bees and how our been doing. I don't know why this gap happens. Like honestly, if we weren't looking into like a deeper dive on trying to address some urban problems. I don't think we would have been exposed to it either. So I'm curious about like, what type of I guess Awareness is your organization or other organizations hosting, you think that is very helpful to create more awareness around the problems happening to these population and therefore to the ecosystem. Sure, I'm one of those that we were closely partnered with, I guess over the past two years, that they feel a little fuzzy on me. But basically, two years ago, the United Nations designated a 20th. World D day, United Nations is leading the charge to try to create more awareness around the plight of planting insects around the world, and one of our partner organizations, which ngcp runs called bees without borders host sometimes on the United Nations campus in New York City. So we've been a part of their campaign in a way, often our core members to speak at different events, where we speak to the public about urban beekeeping practices, issues facing bees and a lot of questions from the Kennedy. So there are ways in which as individuals within the organization we engage with others organizations or other communities that are interested in these topics and we lend our expertise. beekeeping associations or groups or businesses typically tend to have particular focuses. So sometimes the focus is monetary. So you're producing a product where your primary goal is to sell products as a business. Sometimes there's more of an kind of awareness advocacy element to it. So I know what group in Korea called urban de sol, they do a lot of education in the community, especially with children. Because I think it's so at this point, there's still a it's the same in New York but a bit of a fear around being around so they're doing a lot of different events and working to educate people and create homes that are visible that can be interacted with safely that people get a better understanding of how these work unless another kind of group is talking more specifically about honey and the importance of local organic honey that is produced Scroll. There's a lot of different organizations or like businesses like that. And then the last kind of form of business are focused on pollination. So they're less concerned about producing honey to sell than offering pollination services. So there's a very cool organization in Chicago called Vika bees. And the founder of that she basically started with a like a cargo bike hauling beehives around to different neighborhoods. So those are some ways that beekeepers interact with that set of issues. I also other aspects of beekeeping that I find really interesting, and so any organizations that are using beekeeping as a tool for disadvantaged groups, such as prisoners or soldiers who have PTSD, and also students who are in lower income neighborhoods, or schools that are severely disadvantaged by the system. So there are a lot of groups that are using beekeeping in those kinds of capacities to use that as a sort of tool. Personal Growth and even therapeutic means, which I think is really wonderful. I never even thought of that aspect, like how it can actually help on human psychology, which makes sense, right? We think about it for all other animals, I guess why not for beekeeping? Do you think there are any missed opportunities? That's a good question. Yeah, you have to think of what if maybe other disciplines that you thought should be more aware of it that, you know, somehow could add value to the community? That's an excellent question. I think even Canada is a very tight, but they can be a little bit insular because they're small. And, and passionate. So you know, you're working sometimes in a smaller group. I feel as if I won't have a very satisfying answer for this. But I was I was curious because like, as we were looking into it, you know, on more of an architectural angle to raise awareness around this, can we actually you know, incorporate a couple of the hotels in Your hospitality projects just to show that, you know, these are also as important as people and if they're surrounded with some facts around it, just as part of the design somehow, could design enable more awareness opportunities around this issue. And, which is why I was started like thinking Have you thought of like other things that could have been cool to either raise awareness or just be able to practice it. I have a kind of idea. This isn't super original, but your own ideas are reminding me of some companies that we've worked with who have interest in putting beehives on the roof or in their building things, a couple different ways in which they've integrated that sometimes there's sort of like a low speed cam that people walking into the lobby can watch sometimes the employees are able to see it from the office. But I think that Yeah, like like I, I kind of just mentioned, beekeeping can be kind of very, very cool, but then becomes very insular, and even just being able to see The high functioning tensor like light up some sort of odd fascination in people's minds, like you can see it harmonizes see the heart when you see the bees coming in and out. There's just questions, questions, questions, it's just so cool. Like with almost, you know, with almost any cause when you see, you know, the real phenomena that are affected by it in front of you, it makes it more real, it makes it more personal. You create an attachment to it yourself, you come up with some sort of relation to it. And then you care more and if you care more Other people may care more through you, if everyone is caring more. So, think about it. Through a design perspective, I think being able to incorporate hives to be more and more visible would be very cool. There's a lot of practical considerations. Sure. What can you make in the building and what would actually work for the bees and then what would make it feasible for the beekeepers to care for the hive, because that's very, very important. But yeah, I'm going to put something that is mixed mixed with these visually and physically seem more like a part of the environment, I think would be a very interesting way to really smush humanity together in a way that is more obvious than it is when they're up on rooftops. Because one of the things I like the most having become an urban beekeeper, so I feel much more connected to all these different levels of the ecosystem in the city. Because when I'm walking on the street, I know like on this block and that block off block there, these up there and right as a whole nother dimensionality to be put together nature in the city. And I don't think most New Yorkers get to have that kind of experience and bringing it closer together, bringing the human and the B or the other kind of nature closer together. I think. I start to kind of spark catalyze that awareness. Yeah, that's such a great point. I mean, we're in New York City and we walk around Not knowing you know where to find the guys. And I think like, even though folks like all of it being in the middle of like one of the busiest cities, there's still that gap where we don't know if we're not in it, or we don't know, if we're not exposed to someone who's in it. And I guess like one opportunity there is that if we could create those opportunities where it is more visible, but also habitable for the bees, then we could actually raise maybe more awareness around it. So I guess we can do a good open call invitation for different disciplines to collaborate on, you know, this matter is sort of like take it as hand and maybe also it you know, shout out to the cities and sort of supports us. Yeah, and I know there's there's also other kinds of things that I've heard of, so there's, sometimes there are exhibits that kind of show like what What would happen if these disappeared and they'll take a grocery store and they'll take out everything that would be gone, and pretty shocking to see, because there's something here, like one of every three to four bytes of food we eat is only possible because of the pollination of honeybees. Wow. And so when you see that in front of you, like basically, you know, almost all the produce section is gone, then it becomes very real. Visual shock can be useful. And, you know, I know there's currently I'm sitting at Harvard, and we have like an institute here that's working on robotic bees, they're, like, smaller and lighter than a paperclip. And, you know, that's an engineering discipline that's working on this sort of environmental issue. And so as a last question, I guess, what would your advice be to someone who wants to get into beekeeping or, you know, maybe a 10 year old like yourself, who's dreaming of becoming a beekeeper? Yes, that's awesome. Okay, so first, I'll just say there are several 10 year olds who are beekeepers in our association. So that's amazing. Yeah, we We've met them, they're there. They're great. So one thing I'd say is, if you want to have hives that could be difficult in the city because you have to have a real partnership with the space you want to put them. So if you're renting, you can't just throw them on your roof your landlord will get real mad at someone like us will be hired to come take away. So there's always an obstacle space. We all deal with that. But I would say that there are a lot of different ways to learn about beekeeping or practicing beekeeping. So two things that just our own Association offers is we do winter classes that are just classroom based sessions about everything you need to know about basic beekeeping including the urban element of it. So as a way you can sort of start to get that hands on hands on to like classroom face experience. Our Association also does an apprenticeship over the summers and then you get a lot of hands on experience doing lots of crazy things. Anything from installing Hi, honey to skin The Time Square buildings or the ball drops on New Year's, New Year's Eve to like vacuum ease off the 17th floor like I said that Yeah, we watched that video. Yeah, I added that so I think that the the obstacles to getting to beekeeping can it be space and finances, because the initial equipment can cost a bunch of money. But then after that, it's, it's easy as long as you put the time and interest into it, and you see you get so much out of it. Just it's so fulfilling to have this sort of stewardship over these insects. You don't control them, you don't own them, you just work with them. There's there's a lot of ways to try to get involved. You could just go do some beekeeping, volunteering abroad like I did. And then also just throw it out there for people who are like, no, this is feasible for me, but if you want to help pollinator populations, those Carpenter bee hotels are actually really Greet and buy boxes other kinds of you have gardens bases other kinds of plants flowers that you can plant that easily life. Yeah, I mean, I think my story is a testament to the water where you are like you could find even cheaper you could start doing it. There's just doesn't matter where you are who you are, you can always keep keep writing is is a great way to you know, motivate children and also just to adults who want to get into it not give up and they can figure out a way. Yeah, and I'll even just add that coda to the ending like, these have been brought into space. There's, you know, there's these outside of Earth and I think there's the kind of the stereotype of like, a beekeeper is sort of like, old Santa's like man with a beard. But you know, there's, there's growing growing groups of like, young beekeepers have color like all kinds of beekeepers all over the place like farming a woman of color, like there's beekeeper can be found anywhere in everywhere. And I think it's really great how it's becoming a much, much more diverse kind of profession and hobby group of peers. So I always encourage anyone who's interested, like, let me see how I can help you and like to do it, and it'll be really fun. That's great. And I think that's also very important to have a welcoming, and I guess like motivating experts who are already in it for years, sort of encourage everyone else and not to shy away from the Bs, and actually seeing them as a very crucial member of our, you know, one shared Earth. We really need them if we also want to make sure our food chain doesn't collapse. So thank you so much, Hannah. This was amazing. And I think it was very eye opening in so many ways, I'm sure for many of the listeners as well. So we're so glad you were able to join us today.

Pinar Guvenc  25:00

Thank you for listening to our podcast Tune in next week when we sit down with Dr. Seth Lowe, who's the former president of the American Anthropological Association. Dr. Lowe is currently professor of environmental psychology, geography, anthropology and women's studies and director of public space research group at the Graduate Center City University of New York, where she teaches courses and trains PhD students in the anthropology of space and place urban anthropology, culture and environment and cultural values and historic preservation. For more information on the event and our podcast series, visit us at What's Wrong With dot XYZ.

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