You may not see them, but they’re there: buzzing wooden boxes dotting rooftops and backyards throughout New York City. The city’s official records say there are a total of 261 beehives being maintained in the Big Apple, but many associated with the urban beekeeping movement estimate that there are at least twice that many.

NYER090814_2Now, there’s a week-long citywide festival celebrating the honeybee—and it starts today. With events ranging from the entertaining to the educational, NYC Honey Week is an attempt to raise awareness about the decline of honeybees, and emphasize just how critical the pollinators are to our own survival. It doesn’t hurt that they produce a sticky sweet food product, too.

Buzzing from borough to borough, the festival offers beekeeping classes, honey-themed dinners, apiary tours, honey tastings, and kids’ workshops. Things culminate in a daylong Honey Fest at Rockaway Boardwalk on Saturday, September 13. The event is free and family-friendly, and will feature art, food, music, kids’ activities, crafts, the “Bee Marketplace,” and, of course, honey.

You can find a full listing of events here.

Home on the Grange

Brooklyn Grange. Photo credit: Gonzlaught/Creative Commons

NYC Honey Week is the brainchild of Brooklyn Grange managing partner Chase Emmons. Emmons, who has been keeping bees for about 10 years, says that when New York City re-legalized beekeeping in 2010, it coincided perfectly with the boom in the urban agriculture movement.

“Portland has their backyard chickens; New York City needed something a bit more edgy,” Emmons told Metro New York.

Brooklyn Grange manages rooftop farms in Brooklyn and Long Island City, as well as a program called Brooklyn Grange Bees. Since its inception, this urban apiary has grown from a single hive atop the Grange’s flagship farm in Long Island City to more than 40 hives on rooftops in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, NJ.

Losing Ground

Honecomb. Photo credit: julochka/Creative Commons
Honecomb. Photo credit: julochka/Creative Commons

Worldwide, honeybee populations are experiencing a speedy and serious decline due to a scourge known as Colony Collapse Disorder. This poses an enormous threat to our food supply; one third of our food, directly or indirectly, benefits from honeybee pollination according to the US Department of Agriculture, and honeybees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in the US.

In June, President Obama launched a taskforce to protect the honeybee. The White House is investing $50m into research and action to stem the decline, improve habitats and promote better education around the issue.

Environmental groups have also filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict the approval of a controversial class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or ‘neonics’. These pesticides have become a subject of scrutiny in Europe and the U.S. as concern has mounted that they harm honeybees and other pollinators. Canada has recently filed for a similar ban.

While the 261—or even 522—hives in New York City may not stem the decline of honeybees completely, they are an important part of the beekeeping movement, and a critical contribution to New York City’s urban food system.