Apiarists try to spread the word about the benefits of beekeeping in urban spaces
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Feb 20, 2013 | 10108 views |  0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Steve Chapman, a member of the Northeast Alabama Beekeeping Association, says he has bees on his Saks farm to help pollinate his crops. (Anniston Star photo by Shannon Tucker)
Steve Chapman, a member of the Northeast Alabama Beekeeping Association, says he has bees on his Saks farm to help pollinate his crops. (Anniston Star photo by Shannon Tucker)
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Keeping bees at homes within the city limits of Anniston is unlawful according to city code, but Sarah Cavender would like to see that change.

Cavender, owner of the Oxford jewelry shop Sarah Cavender Metalworks, enjoys gardening when she’s not traveling the country attending jewelry conventions.

In proper seasons, the backyard of her Anniston home on Glenwood Terrace is dotted with kale, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms and wildflowers. The bees, she said, would help pollinate her garden in addition to providing honey for personal use.

After attending a meeting last week of the Northeast Alabama Beekeepers Association, she and a group of friends have begun working to research and raise awareness about the benefits of city beekeeping.

The arguments for codes like Anniston’s — which bans keeping bees within 300 feet of any residence, school, church, hospital, public building, park, public playground or body of water — are straightforward, Cavender said. Being stung by a swarm of angry bees is reason enough, she said.

But honeybees are not as aggressive as other types of bees, and by fencing off hives to prevent someone from tampering with them, that problem would largely be avoided, Cavender said. Several local beekeepers and experts agree with Cavender.

Steve Chapman, a member of the Northeast Alabama Beekeeping Association and a volunteer with the Alabama Extension Office, lives in Anniston and has a farm in Saks where he keeps bees to help pollinate his crops.

Chapman has kept beehives for about the last six years, and said when kept properly, he sees no reason codes shouldn’t be changed to allow them inside city limits.

“Bees are inside the city limits anyway,” Chapman said. “They’re here. They’re inside of homes and in trees. We’re living with them every day.”

About 40 people routinely attend the association’s meetings, and while not all of those who attend keep bees, there are many more who keep bees and never attend, Chapman said. He estimated there might be as many as 60 beekeepers in Calhoun County.

Jim Tew, state beekeeping specialist for the Alabama Extension Office, said that while exact numbers are hard to pin down, backyard beekeeping has increased in popularity in recent years.

More than 600 beekeepers met in February for the 2013 Auburn University Spring Beekeeping Symposium, the most ever to attend the annual event, Tew said.

“It is absolutely exploding,” Tew said, and while regulations on beekeeping vary in cities across Alabama, he said that safety is foremost in the minds of beekeepers.

“Things that beekeepers can do that help bees become better neighbors is provide better barriers so that the bees fly up and over,” Tew said. The higher bees fly, the less problematic they can be for neighbors, he said.

Jack Chapman, a founding member of the Beekeepers Association (and no relation to Steve Chapman), keeps about 150 hives, largely for honey production, in several spots around Calhoun County.

“I think that’s something you can do really well,” Chapman said of keeping bees in cities.

Like Cavender, many city dwellers are growing vegetable gardens, Chapman said, and bees help pollinate those gardens.

“I didn’t know it was against the ordinance,” Chapman said. “I know of a couple people that kept them within the city, so I thought it was legal.”

Attempts Tuesday to reach Anniston’s and Jacksonville’s code enforcement officers were unsuccessful, but Mike Roberts, Oxford’s chief building official, said that while he’s never had to enforce the code, keeping bees at residential homes inside Oxford city limits is unlawful.

“It would have to be in our agriculture zoning ... but I’ve never had it come up,” Roberts said, of a resident inquiring about keeping bees at a home.

There are at least two Piedmont farmers who keep bees, said Piedmont’s code enforcement officer Carl Hinton, but the instance is so rare, when asked Tuesday if it was against city code, he said he’d have to check. Attempts to reach Hinton later in the day were unsuccessful.

City beekeeping is a relatively new trend, Tew said, but one that is quickly changing the landscape of modern beekeeping. New York City lifted a decade-long ban on raising honeybees in 2010, according to reports by The New York Times.

“The typical beekeeper in Alabama used to be an agriculturally-oriented, outdoor type. Now, more and more they are city-dwellers,” Tew said. “This is all changing and the type of beekeeper is changing ... Everybody, in one way or the other, can claim some foothold on the beekeeping world.”

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
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