Urban Beekeeping Creating Environmental Buzz in Pittsburgh
No backyard? No problem. The country’s first community apiary brings beekeeping to the city.
photos courtesy Burgh Bees
Pittsburgh may be known as the black and gold city, but it’s increasingly becoming greener. There are farmers markets galore, restaurants are using sustainable practices, many building are LEED certified and it has never been easier to recycle. And, thanks to Burgh Bees, many Pittsburghers can get their environmental buzz from beekeeping.
Founded in 2009, Burgh Bees is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the education and promotion of urban beekeeping. According to the organization, honey bees have been experiencing a yearly decline of 35 percent since 2006. Loss of habitat, environmental conditions and invasive pathogens and pesticides have greatly crippled the bee population. Beekeepers lost 33.2 percent of their colonies between April 2016 and March 2017, according to the 2016-2017 Bee Informed survey.
Jeff Shaw, Burgh Bees President
“One out of every three bites you take in your diet have been pollinated by bees,” says Jeff Shaw, president of Burgh Bees. “Now is an appropriate time to promote beekeeping awareness in urban environments.”
Burgh Bees aims to introduce beekeeping to Pittsburgh by providing seminars and mentorship programs that help teach beginning beekeepers how to responsibly keep their own hives. The organization hosts school field trips and other events where students tour the bee yard in combination with the certified pollination garden and learn about the importance of honey bees for the environment.
“We provide a source for beekeepers where they can receive training, do some introductory courses, match with a mentor and get a spot at the apiary,” says Shaw. The bee yard, or apiary, in Homewood was the first community-based apiary in the country.
“The apiary provides beekeepers a place to keep their bees in a habitat that is conducive for foraging and with flowering plants, and this has never been done in a community before” says Shaw. For those who lack a backyard or space for their hives, they can lease a spot in the apiary for $75 for one year along with other beekeepers.
According to Shaw, more than 700 new beekeepers have been trained by Burgh Bees in the last 10 years. There are currently about 14 experienced mentors in the program to match up with ‘newbees’ or beginner beekeepers. This spring Burgh Bees will be breaking ground on the Brookline Apiary and pollinator garden.
Burgh Bees’ mission to be educators of the environment begins with a focus on the youth. “One person’s actions multiplied across the entire area can have significant impact,” says Shaw. “It is the next generation that is going to take on the role of perpetuating sustainable beekeeping practices.”
School visits and lectures on the importance of pollinators, and planting bee-friendly gardens prompt students to share their new-found knowledge. “They go home and educate their parents who then reach out to us with their own questions,” says Shaw.
“We’re really making a difference in the community by educating people about the importance of pollinators, and the interconnectedness of all living things.”