Fran Freeman: Urban Beekeeper

I have apiaries in three locations, and.

I have apiaries in three locations, and I’m responsible for caring for and managing the bees there. I took a credit course in apiculture online and the sustainable urban agriculture program online as well, both through the University of Guelph.

I’ve wanted to keep bees since I was in my 20s. I actually built hive boxes and got some equipment back then but didn’t know how to approach it. I always thought I’d have a couple of hives in my backyard, but after taking these courses, beekeeping became a larger issue.

My background is in natural and organic food retail and wholesale. I was a manager at a food co-op for a number of years. As an organic gardener, I’ve always been interested in quality food, but as I learned about food security, that became more important to me. I started looking into sustainable agriculture because big organic isn’t necessarily a sustainable process.

In particular, I took a course that was very intense: Theory And Principles Of Sustainable Agriculture And Horticulture. I’d learned about permaculture before, but this really got me thinking more heavily about it. Now it’s not just a matter of my raising some bees I’m looking at it in terms of raising them in a sustainable way in an urban bee-breeding program.

Part of the issue is that it’s thought that a particular type of pesticide is responsible for the bee die-offs in the countryside. Yet we still use some of those pesticides on golf courses and lawns, nursery stock is still treated with it and so on. Because of this, we are developing a Toronto bee, our own urban bee stock that is strong and hardy so we don’t have to look to rural apiaries for our breeding stock.

It’s pretty phenomenal to work with bees. They are a super-organism and have a hive consciousness, a collective intelligence – a highly organized society in which they do collective decision-making. When the bees are happy, strong and thriving, their hum makes something like an “om” sound. You could say it’s a spiritual experience.

Compassionate and empathic people make the best beekeepers. Artists make good beekeepers because they have a lot of these skill sets or attributes. They’re used to working alone and they’re problem solvers, and they have to really listen to their materials in order to use them well.

I’m not in it for the honey, because that attitude leads to shortcuts that don’t have the best interests of the bees at heart.

The best part of the job? It opens up your heart.

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