Some pockets of Buffalo are buzzing thanks to urban redevelopment of an unexpected kind. The recently implemented Green Code has officially legalized what used to be an underground practice in the city of Buffalo: urban beekeeping. Residents have found an array of uses for it, from gardening and education to revitalization of neglected urban landmarks.
Summer Street resident Catherine “Kitty” Herrick has been beekeeping since the 1970s, while teaching beekeeping in Guatemala with the Peace Corps. For the last seven years, however, the roof of her garage has been home to approximately 10,000 bees.
“In many ways, it’s a perfect setup on top of that roof,” Herrick said.
She said the Green Code is encouraging for her nearly life-long passion. Her home, including her garden and apiary, is in the heart of Buffalo’s Garden Walk.
“There’s a movement in Buffalo I just love. There’s this strong community of Earth-friendly, whole foods movement,” Herrick said. “I didn’t really know that. I just did this because I’m a beekeeper and was sitting in my garden and said ‘I need to get some bees. I’m missing something.’”
While Herrick said her neighbors approve of the hobby—even assisting her in her beekeeping occasionally—not everyone who keeps bees receives such support.
“A lot of neighbors just hear the word ‘bee’ and they sort of get their ire up. It’s a constant a little bit of education each time we have an interaction,” said Caesandra Seawell, an educator who teaches eco-literacy to high school students.
Seawell and her students plan to install an apiary for a beekeeping club in the fall. In order to do that, they are spending this summer planting pollinator buffets—plants that provide a food source for the bees—in the Pelion Community Garden across from City Honors High School near Best Street and Masten Avenue.
With Buffalo’s push toward locally grown food, Seawell said it will be important to properly educate future generations about the creatures that help produce it.
“When you teach kids how the bees impact the food that we eat, you’re also setting up that relationship for the future where the potential purchaser of a jar of raw honey or pint of strawberries is going to ask that question: how do you keep your bees happy?” Seawell said.
Aside from the learning experience it provides, the community garden offers another service: brining activity to a previously neglected area of the city.
“It used to be four vacant houses, then it became four vacant lots,” Seawell said. “And so our neighborhood has a history of blight and neglect and we’ve got a vacancy rate of about 40 percent, so this is a big improvement.”
Like Seawell’s garden, another project in Buffalo’s Outer Harbor also transforms neglected space into a natural haven. Courtney Creenan Chorley, an architect, was a master’s student at the University at Buffalo
in 2012 when she helped design a man-made beehive called Elevator B, or Hive City, for a competition.
“We designed this structure to be an educational tool, but also a redevelopment tool as part of the larger complex of Silo City,” Chorley said.
Elevator B is a gleaming tower, circled constantly by the colony of bees that lives inside. The bees were originally found in the window of an abandoned office building. A bed of wild flowers surrounds the colony’s current home.
“Now the site, although still very industrial from Ohio Street leading up to the beehive, is much more of a native planting and native garden,” Chorley said. “It seems to have been doing really quite well and has made the site much more beautiful in contrast with the silos that are there.”
Aspiring beekeepers in the city do not need the wide-open space surrounding Buffalo’s old grain silos to establish their new hobby, however. Chorley just advised that you use your surroundings to your advantage.
“I hope people are more encouraged to take on smaller projects like that because it just makes their neighborhood or commercial district—wherever it would be installed—much more interesting," she said. "It adds multiple layers to the urban fabric of experiences.”
The Pelion Community Garden also holds free workshops on topics like organic pest control and pollinator buffets throughout the summer. Even seasoned pros had to start somewhere. Herrick was no exception when she first began beekeeping.
“I sat there with my beekeeping book and a box of bees—a shoebox full of bees arrived in the mail. I had all the equipment and I was scared to death. I thought I could basically learn by just reading a book,” Herrick said. “The only way you can really learn it is to be in the hive.”
With that kind of attitude and a little architectural ingenuity, abandoned city sites are being repopulated one hive at a time.