Could L.A. Become a Honeybee Mecca? The Backwards Beekeepers Are on It | Features | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Could L.A. Become a Honeybee Mecca? The Backwards Beekeepers Are on It 

Thursday, Jun 13 2013
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Anderson claims that members of the beekeepers association have called him a "terrorist" and "the Taliban." "They actually said that. I don't know if we're not friends or we're not enemies, but I've read some of the minutes from their bee club meetings, and some people up there consider me the Taliban. They consider us terrorists because we promote feral bees."

Anderson asked them to recant. By way of response, he says, they told him "to F.O." Fuck. Off.

The Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association meets one Monday night a month at a Lutheran church in the sleepy, foothills town of La Crescenta. The LACBA is a venerable club, steeped in tradition. Members recite the pledge of allegiance, hand out ID badges and take attendance. Its roster includes commercial apiarists who make big money off hundreds of colonies in rural areas and individual members with upward of 80 hives who consider themselves "sideline" beekeepers. The Backwards Beekeepers, who are primarily hobbyists, seem ragtag by comparison.

click to flip through (4) PHOTO BY ANNE FISHBEIN - Kirk Anderson, bee guru
  • Kirk Anderson, bee guru

More than anything, the two groups are divided on the use of chemical treatments: The Beekeepers Association encourages it, the Backwards Beekeepers abhor it.

To Rob McFarland, this difference is "minute." To Kirk Anderson, it is massive. It is philosophy bordering on theology. The Beekeepers Association has invited Anderson to speak at their meetings, but he refuses to go. "To me it'd be like joining the Kennel Club and talking about my dog's fleas," he says.

Association president James Lindsay doesn't remember anyone calling anyone else a terrorist. Though, he says of Anderson, "I think he is dangerous."

Lindsay has a deep distrust of feral bees. Four years ago, a friend in rural Agua Dulce asked Lindsay to remove a feral colony that had gotten into an outbuilding on his property. Lindsay smoked it and cracked open the windowsill beneath it.

Then the nightmare scenario happened. Within seconds his veil was thick with bees. He couldn't see. It was pitch-black. The attack pheromone the bees emitted — which smells, weirdly, like bananas — was so strong that he thought he would asphyxiate.

Lindsay's wife was with him, 60 feet away, by his truck. She too was stung. "We're leaving," he told her. "I'm gonna walk down the street a ways, brush some of these bees away."

Still brushing bees off his suit, he hopped into the back of the truck. They drove down the dirt road at 30 mph, tailed for half a mile by a cloud of bees. Afterward, he couldn't count the number of stingers embedded in his leather gloves. There were thousands, he estimates.

"That was probably an extreme," Lindsay says now. "Not all feral colonies are like that. There's different degrees." Just last month he caught one that was sweet and docile as could be. When he lifted the lid of their box, the bees didn't even come out.

Despite their differences, the L.A. County Beekeepers Association and the Backwards Beekeepers agree on one matter: Both would love to see a beehive on every corner of every street in the city. "We are for urbanized beekeeping," LACBA's Lindsay says. "But we want to make sure it's done with the proper training."

What constitutes proper training, however, is the kicker. Do you chemically treat your bees and otherwise deploy the full range of technology available? Or do you do it "backwards," trust in nature's wisdom and, as Anderson and the McFarlands believe, "let the bees be bees"?

"It's hard to tell a commercial beekeeper not to treat his or her bees," says Keith Roberts, vice president of the Beekeepers Association. Going organic on a couple of hives is one thing. "But if you have 200, all valued at $250 each, you can't afford to replace your bees every year. If your mortgage depends on so many pounds of honey and so much pollination? It's hard to tell somebody to accept a 50 percent loss."

One year after Bill Rosendahl first moved for the L.A. City Planning Commission to change zoning to allow beekeeping in residential areas, the motion is stuck in the Planning and Land Use Management committee. Bees are still a legal gray area.

"I don't care if laws exist or don't exist," Rosendahl says, sitting in his office, feet propped up on the desk. "A bee is a critical element in the survival of the planet, period. Anybody who doesn't support this is crazy."

He calls out to his assistant "Where is my cellphone?" He dials the Council president pro tempore. "Ed Reyes, Bill Rosendahl, brother! You know I did that motion ... it has to do with the beekeeping in single-family residences and I'm trying to make a law out of it. ... I'd like to ask you to get it out of committee and get it before the full council."

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