The world over, the 'Big Apple', New York City, is hailed as a centre of international commerce, the very model of a modern metropolis. So, with that reputation, you might be surprised to find among Manhattan's skyscrapers, of all things non-urban, agriculture, albeit a different sort of agriculture. In 'fad city', the latest fad is - wait for it - beekeeping! But Ginny Stein discovered that it's not just beekeeping for the sake of keeping bees, or even honey
REPORTER: Ginny Stein
Andrew Cote has an emergency on his hands. One of his beehives has just swarmed.
ANDREW COTE, BEEKEEPER: A swarm of bees is intimidating, a swarm of bees is frightening, there's a ball of maybe 30,000 bees hanging off of each other, buzzing around and when they fly through the air it's like a buzz-saw.
That wouldn't be a problem if Andrew's beehive was in a forest or a field but it's in the middle of New York, America's most densely populated city.
ANDREW COTE: People are afraid of swarms and they make people uncomfortable so, emergency in terms of people being actually in danger is very low but emergency in terms of giving a bad public face is very, very high.
Maintaining a good public face is all important because beekeeping has only just returned to New York after being banned for more than a decade.
ANDREW COTE: I don't need much - I just need a place to put the swarm.
Now that ban has been overturned, thanks to a group of pro-bee lobbyists, new hives are popping up all over the city - on rooftops like this one. Andrew's bees have chosen to swarm on the same day that gardeners are preparing for a gardening class.
ANDREW COTE: I don't want to ruin your roses.
WOMAN: Seriously if anyone dies, I don't want to be responsible, just throwing it out there.
Mission accomplished, with only one minor sting.
WOMAN: Someone get some water on these things.
ANDREW COTE: They are OK. Just give them a minute to settle into the bucket and I will put the lid on it. I have one sting on my eye.
By bee-swarm standards, this was a small one, and easily contained.
ANDREW COTE: It's like maybe 8,000 bees.
Andrew Cote was at the forefront of overturning the ban on beekeeping in New York and now he's reaping the rewards.
ANDREW COTE: I expect that we will have phenomenal honey from these hives so close to Central Park, yes.
REPORTER: How many are you putting in?
ANDREW COTE: Five.
Today he's setting up on the rooftop of an exclusive private school.
ANDREW COTE: I'm sorry to interrupt you guys. Is there an elevator that way? I want to get these through kind of quick - actually I will cover them up in case anybody feels uncomfortable. I've got to go as fast as I can, 'cause I've got another one coming. I put a little water on them so they are a little distracted. Bang it down so they fall. Give them some more water - probably be a little too rough.
As well as producing honey, these bees will have an educational role.
CHRIS DURNFORD, YORK PREP SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: I'm an environmental scientist and I teach marine bio to the kids so we wanted to bring in that whole environmental approach so we thought it would be really great and as everyone knows, bees are really in danger right now with colony collapse and increased pesticide use so we are trying to do our part to support the population.
'Colony collapse' is the big buzzword in bee circles. Across the United States, the honey industry is in peril with commercial beekeepers losing managed colonies at unsustainable rates.
ANDREW COTE: They're going to smell their queen, they're going to stay there.
KEVIN HACKETT, US DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE: So we're losing over 30% of the colonies every year for the last four years.
Kevin Hackett is a leading bee scientist at the US Department of Agriculture. He says colony collapse is a complex problem triggered by anything from pesticides to malnutrition, leaving the bees vulnerable to disease.
KEVIN HACKETT: So it is many different factors can stress the bees but what kills them is likely to be a pathogen. What we found out that happens is that the colonies are basically under strength at the end of winter and the beginning of spring and you need a certain number of bees for correct pollination and actually for the colony to survive.
And it's not just honey production that's feeling the impact. Hackett believes bee loss is the biggest threat to America's food supply.
KEVIN HACKETT: Bees pollinate about one in every three bites of food we eat. They are extremely important. If you can imagine sitting down in front of your porridge in the morning, you could eat the porridge without bees because it is wind pollinated, but if you wanted to spruce that up, if you wanted to add some blueberries or strawberries, that's bee pollinated.
The colony collapse problem has caused a groundswell of support for honey bees, which contributed to the ban being lifted in New York.
MIKE BARRETT, BEEKEEPER: A little over to the left that guy shaking furiously - that's the bee dance, that's how they're telling each other where everything is.
Mike Barrett is new to the bee business. He's only had his hive a matter of weeks, and he's showing it off to other converts who are waiting to get their own hives.
MIKE BARRETT: I haven't had a lot of experience with bees but these guys are really calm.
Mike's interest in bees is two-fold.
MIKE BARRETT: I don't know, I just kind of wanted to see bees. I love honey, and the whole colony collapse thing was something I was interested in and bees are so important to all the food in the world, I thought I could do my bit to help there be more bees around.
Unfortunately, not even the experts, let alone avid beekeepers like Andrew Cote, know how to remedy colony collapse.
ANDREW COTE: I am very concerned, but I am not a scientist and I don't have a very good solution. I am just trying to learn, along with everyone else, how to keep my bees healthy.
Today Andrew Cote is installing yet more bee hives - this time on the roof of the oldest pub and restaurant in New York, directly under the Brooklyn Bridge.
ANDREW COTE: We had intended to put three hives up here, we had a glitch with another building - we put six hives up instead. He's very happy with it. They are going to use the honey in their drinks, in deserts, in meals.
When I return two weeks later, restaurateur and owner Adam Weprin has had his first taste of honey from his hives.
ADAM WEPRIN, RETAURATEUR: Andrew the beekeeper wanted me here early in the morning to show me something. He opens up the nest, takes off a little cone, and says, "Here, check this out." And it was just beautiful. It was absolutely beautiful. Anything that has sugar in it you can replace with honey.
There are big plans for the first honey crop and Adam hopes his local produce will become a restaurant drawcard.
ADAM WEPRIN: Mara is our desert chef. Mara does most of the deserts. Mara doesn't know this, but Mara is going to be cooking with honey very soon.
At this New York City market, local bee products are catching on.
ANDREW COTE: I have honey from Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New York State and Connecticut.
We're close to where Andrew earlier rescued the swarm of bees. Now he's selling their produce and talking up the subtle regional differences.
ANDREW COTE: The Manhattan honey has a higher rent and the Brooklyn honey has more attitude and the Westchester honey has better schools, so there's some variation there.
REPORTER: No seriously can you taste any difference?
ANDREW COTE: I can taste the difference. The Manhattan honey has a light citrusy taste with a strong minty finish. And I don't know enough about the flora in this area to tell you why.
Andrew also believes the locally produced honey will have health benefits for New Yorkers.
ANDREW COTE: If one eats local pollen, not only does one get B and B-complex vitamins and amino acids but some sort of immunisation against local pollen allergies.
Andrew's also brought a couple of packets of bees for new recruits eager to set up their own hives.
KEVIN HACKETT: I think it is really a healthy thing for people to take up a hobby of beekeeping. It helps pollination of local urban gardens. Urban agriculture is becoming more important in areas like New York City.
With another urban beehive on the way, Andrew and his fellow beekeepers are keeping up the fight against colony collapse and making life in the Big Apple a little sweeter.
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