Local Food Hero: Urban Toronto Beekeepers Association

beekeepersOn December 10th, 2014 the TFPC presented Fran Freeman and Tom Nolan from the Urban Toronto Beekeepers Association with a Local Food Hero award. The Toronto Beekeepers Association assists members and other interested people to learn about honeybees. They offer an opportunity to meet with other beekeepers and discuss beekeeping. The Association contributes to the improvement of the Beekeeping industry and co-operates with the Ministry of Agriculture, to share the latest beekeeping information, and to educate the public at large.

Both Fran and Tom make unique contributions to our food systems challenges. Below they tell their stories about their beekeeping passions.

Fran Freeman’s story

Beekeeping–and particularly urban beekeeping–was something I wanted to do forty years ago. I went so far as to build hive boxes and buy a hat and veil, but finding a mentor was a different matter. Perhaps I could’ve prevailed upon one of the old curmudgeons keeping bees in the city in the mid-70s but they weren’t too receptive and besides they used some fairly nasty chemicals and drugs. I knew I wanted to use organic methods but how to proceed? Even the alternative literature of the day talked about using drugs and chemicals on bees. Fast forward to 2005 when I began caring for bees with the Toronto Beekeepers Coop. I took Integrated Pest Management and Queen Rearing workshops with the Ontario Beekeepers Association Tech-Transfer-Team as I have a particular interest in sustainable beekeeping and bee breeding. I studied Apiculture and Sustainable Urban Agriculture at the University of Guelph, and Permaculture Design with Geoff Lawton. The city offers far more opportunities for beekeeping than challenges.

Unique food/ bee system problem

The main barrier is the fear of insects, particularly of those with a capacity to sting, and the best way to dismantle this barrier is through public education. The city could be better designed so that the tree canopy, parks and other public spaces, include not only nectary species and pollinator gardens, but pollinator corridors connecting fragmented forage and habitat. This would help not only honey bees but a wide variety of native bees too. Climate change is the wild card and the greater the bio-diversity, the better the chances of getting through whatever is ahead.

Unique food/ bee system solution

The Urban Toronto Beekeepers Association has grown to over 600 members in just two years. It provides excellent networking opportunities for experienced and novice beekeepers and others who don’t want to work with bees but wish to learn about and support pollinators. Some individuals within the group offer mentoring opportunities and it is the UTBA’s eventual goal to offer a mentorship programme as an organization. Our monthly meetings bring in a variety of speakers and the UTBA presented the first all-day workshop featuring an international speaker on Organic Beekeeping last February. The UTBA will staff an urban beekeeping booth at Green Living show this year and will provide a speaker for their panel on urban bees.

Tom Nolan’s story

Tom Nolan is the president and founder of the Urban Toronto Beekeepers’ Association (UTBA) , a member of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association and the Elmgrove Organic Collective.
I started the UTBA to connect with other urban beekeepers. I was surprised to find out how many urban beekeepers there were operating in isolation. The UTBA has grown rapidly in the last two years. Our goal is “Sustainable Beekeeping through Education and Mentorship”. We have a monthly meeting where we have industry experts and professionals speak on beekeeping, pollination, and related topics. We also run workshops and seminars. We have a very active and lively facebook group where members can share and connect with other beekeepers.
There is no municipal law or code governing beekeeping in the city. There is the provincial Bees Act which presents a challenge for urban beekeepers. Section 19 of the provincial bees act states that bee hives must be at least 30 meters from the adjacent property line. This makes it very challenging if not impossible considering the size of most residential lots in Toronto. For this reason many urban beekeepers do not register their hives with the province. The UTBA strongly encourages all our members to register their hives with the province even if they do not meet the 30 meter requirement. The UTBA believes that the more beekeepers there are that register their hives the more likely the province will consider changing the 30 meter rule to something that is more appropriate for urban beekeeping. In the mean time the UTBA focus is on education and mentorship.
Unique Food System Problem
Most of UTBA members are small scale producers who often have other full time employment making it challenging to market and sell their honey. Many can not commit to a full season at a farmers market because of lack of time or resources.
Unique Food System Solution
The UTBA will be signing on with one of Toronto’s Farmers markets this spring. UTBA members can reserve our space for a week or two. It will help promote the association, but more importantly it will give members a chance to sell their honey and other hive products without committing to a whole season. UTBA members will get some sales and marketing experience while promoting local honey. This is also very exciting for honey lovers who will visit their weekly market and get a chance to see a different beekeeper/honey producer each week.