urban food


My adventures with Beekeeping 101

Took a beekeeping class yesterday with The Institute For Urban Homesteading. We want to get bees for the roof at Forage Kitchen, and although I hadn’t planned on taking care of them myself, I wanted to learn a little something about how they work.

Really interesting class! Learned a ton (which was easy considering I knew nothing). I was really struck by a few things. One is just the insane organization of the honey bee colony. At the risk of getting a bit airy, it really does seem magical the way they work. The second they’re born they know everything they need to do (the female worker bees first task is to turn around and clean her own hatching cell, HOW DOES SHE KNOW?!. Alternately the lazy male bees first task is to get fed…).

One bee on its own, while not stupid, doesn’t know how the whole functions functions, but they are born knowing exactly what their purpose is, really fascinating.  A queen bee doesn’t rule, but is just a larger bee fed differently. To make a queen the larvae is simply fed royal jelly for its entire incubation period, and put in a larger cell to grow. That’s the only difference, and somehow by being fed differently it knows that the second it’s born its supposed to kill all competing queens, fly out to mate, then lay thousands of eggs for the rest of her life.

It really does bring to mind the idea of the colony as a superorganism; something I’ve become really interested in lately, and that we discussed in the class. A bee is more like a cell in the body than an individual. A white blood cell doesn’t have a brain, and is never taught what to do, it just does it. It is created with all the information it will ever need, and immediately goes to task.  A thought doesn’t live in a neuron, but billions of neurons together create the experience of being human. The part creates the whole, without the need for individual agency. This is one of those things that if we didn’t see it happening in nature, we would say it was impossible.  Amazing.

The other thing I was really struck by was how little tending bees can live with. This was an alternative hive class, so instead of the standard hive (when you think of a commercial beehive, you’re thinking of a standard hive), we looked at several alternatives. The one that I was most enamored with is the Top Bar Hive. At it’s most basic; it’s a box with a series of 1.25 inch removable slats on top, with a .5 inch vertical piece of wood in each slat. Rather than needing to give the bees a frame to build their combs, they naturally create them on each vertical slat. Some for brood (where the babies are born), which are brown, and some for honey storage.

I originally went to the class really just to have a better understanding of what we were getting into at Forage Kitchen, but now I want my own! If anyone has any tips on where to find some healthy bees send ‘em my way!


Why we shouldn't hate on myfarm

Myfarm is done.  I first heard about this fleetingly a couple weeks ago, but no one really knew what happened. Just that they were gone, something about internal problems. Went to their website. nothing. Tried searching around the interwebs, but to no avail.   A couple days ago I got forwarded this blog post with the attached message "let me know if you need any help" from one Fred Bove. Very nice gesture to be sure. As someone who has also recently started a new kind of vegetable delivery service, I have some thoughts on the demise of myfarm, and the surprisingly vitriolic words that are being thrown around concerning this once greatly esteemed business.

Myfarm was started by a couple who had a really great idea. The idea was to put farms in peoples backyards, and with the food grown, feed the city.  To get this idea going, and see if people were interested, they put up 50 flyers around the city. immediately they were deluged with response. The chronicle wrote about them. The NY times wrote about them. They got more response, and ultimately collapsed under the pressure. I volunteered with myfarm a couple times when they were first starting out, but haven't spoken to Trevor in a while, but from what I can tell, they just grew too fast.

1. When I started forageSF, I thought that the best thing that could happen was to have 100 people sign up immediately. I would be able to support myself foraging ( and maybe even start a bit of a savings account). When that didn't happen, I was really disappointed. A couple people signed up, but as I jealously watched myfarm get bigger, my business grew very slowly.  I see now that was the best thing that could have happened. The amount I have learned in the time since the first CSF box went out is amazing. What people want (surprisingly, its less variety of foods rather than more), logistics (how to collect and distribute very perishable food in a two window), customer service (how to not piss people off). These lessons have all been learned without my business eating itself because I've had the luxury of moving relatively slowly . If, as I desired, had 100 people sign up the first month, I probably wouldn't have been been doing what Im doing at this point.

2. I think people had an unreasonable expectation of myfarm (from what the post conveys).  Myfarm was a really good idea. A revolutionary idea, to feed people from urban production. Rather than the cities being vacuums for rural production, we would sustain ourselves, and have nice backyard gardens to boot.  It was such a good idea in fact that people signed up immediatly....I can't think anymore about this at the moment, but I feel for Trevor. He tried to do something really interesting, and put a great idea out into the world, he tried to do something totally unique, so give him a break.