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Now, with swarm season well under way, Yassky’s legislation sits in committee and bees remain as illegal as ferrets. His office remains confident that it will pass.
Right around the time that Yassky began legislating, Fischer gathered a group of 60 people in the Central Park Arsenal building for his first beekeeping lecture. The group shrank to around 30 regulars and continued to meet every Sunday. The two-hour classes covered every angle of the process through lecture, discussion and PowerPoint presentations As the spring wore on, Fischer continued to educate and equip a core of highly trained beekeepers. The most serious students invested $250 apiece in wooden hives, white canvas costumes, tin smokers and, of course, three pounds of bees. Some just showed up as the weather got warm with money and a willingness to learn as they went.
On a precious April afternoon, the co-op gathered in the cavernous lobby of the old Metropolitan Savings Bank on Flatbush Avenue. There, in a bright corner of the cold dark space, $7,000 worth of hive materials sat waiting to be assembled. Four months of preparation filled the lobby with a conspiratorial camaraderie, as though everyone present had some hand in an upcoming heist.
A 2008 Edible Manhattan article about a brief, $75 course in beekeeping offered on the Lower East Side smugly described the students as something predictable and haphazard: “tween community garden members pretending to look blasé, the facially pierced, some pre-gentrification hold-outs, and a few passers-by.” Fischer’s following appeared sophisticated by comparison. A psychiatrist named Yeshawant, a medical photographer named Vishnu, a laid-off financial securities trader named Carolina. Some planned to put their hives on upstate farms or country houses until the laws changed. Others carted their setup to their homes, some of which were, literally, in carting distance. The crew displayed courage and commitment to the cause. Fischer made it clear that they would have to wait a full year for their first honey harvest.
Though he has been unemployed for some time, Fischer charged nothing for his tutelage.
“Novices are taught for free” he replied to a suggestion that he might make a living teaching these classes. “It has been that way since 1200 B.C. Charging people money is a sin. It’s insulting to the entire tradition.”
He also knows he can’t build a vibrant citywide honey co-op alone.
“None of our native plants were pollinated by honeybees,” says Dr. John Ascher, who manages the Museum of Natural History’s Bee Database Project. “Not a single one from New York all the way down through the Caribbean.”
Ascher is regarded as the city’s bee guru — able to recognize and distinguish the city’s 226 species of native bees at a glance. None of the bees Ascher studies produce honey or do much for, say, commercial groves of apples and oranges. Some visit only a single native plant or flower. Others imitate bees that pollinate that single plant. Some of these imposters have gotten along as nectar thieves or bum parents, stashing their eggs in other bees’ underground nests. Most depend on nectar and pollen. Every one of them has had to compete with apis mellifera.