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Honey from open space bees for sale to raise cash, awareness

By Dan McKay
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

           A few spilled drops are easily scooped up with a finger, and no one's going to object if you chew on a discarded row of honeycomb.
        But a small crew of city employees and volunteers is hoping to fill more than just bellies with the honey being collected. As part of a new project, the city will sell it to help generate a little cash — and perhaps educate people on the benefits of domesticated European honey bees, an important part of the ecosystem.
        It's a chance, literally, to taste Albuquerque.
    "Bees are so essential to the environment," said James Lewis, an associate planner in the city's Open Space Division. "I think it's been a great program to start."
    The city has used volunteers to keep bees on some open space lands for about three years. This year is the first time the honey will be sold to generate revenue and raise awareness about the benefits of beekeeping. In previous years, the bees didn't produce enough excess honey to harvest.
        Lewis was among a half-dozen volunteers and employees who harvested honey last week from a hive near the city's Open Space Visitor Center on Coors NW, between Montaño and Paseo Del Norte. The hive houses 40,000 to 60,000 bees and is located near the bosque, well away from the more heavily traveled parts of the visitor center.
        Lewis and volunteers Chantal Foster and Alex Sielicki started on Friday by removing from the hive a box with panels of honeycomb. They transported it back to a casita at the Open Space center, where they cut the waxy cap off the top of the honeycomb.
Urban Farm and Harvesting Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Open Space Visitor Center, 6500 Coors NW, between Montano and Paseo Del Norte
Online: http://www.cabq.gov/openspace/UrbanFarmFestival.html
    The panels went into a centrifuge-like device — it looks like a large coffee urn — that spins the panels, throwing the honey to the bottom. A spout allows the honey to drip out into a filter, beneath which a bucket collects it.
        It's then drained into little jars, which will be sold Saturday at the Urban Farm and Harvest Festival, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the visitor center.
        Prices are expected to start around $5. Proceeds, perhaps a few hundred dollars, will go to the nonprofit Open Space Alliance, which promotes conservation and stewardship of city open space.
        It's part of an effort to make money, help the environment and educate people about bees, which pollinate one-third of all local crops and plants. Without bees, for example, New Mexico would have no green chile.
        The city has bees at its visitor center on the West Side and also near the Rio Grande Nature Center in the North Valley.
        Local honey may taste a little different than what's found on the shelf of a big grocery store, enthusiasts say. That's because it lacks the usual preservatives and processing that foreign honey is subject to.
        Consumers may notice hints of the plants that are near the hive. Different parts of the city can produce distinct batches of honey.
        "I just think it tastes better," Foster said.
        Some believe regular doses of honey help fight allergies because of the bees' role in the pollination process. Also, raising bees provides a gentler population of the insects. They've been bred for at least 10,000 years "to be docile around us," Foster said.
        The city's efforts at beekeeping come as bee colonies nationwide are collapsing — a phenomenon known as "colony collapse disorder" — perhaps because of the use of pesticides and other factors. Foster said longtime beekeepers in Albuquerque have reported difficulties, but there's no quantifiable data to prove declines yet.
        City Councilor Debbie O'Malley, who sponsored a council proclamation this year to support beekeeping, said it's important for the city to educate people about bees. The more human-managed hives there are, she said, the fewer feral — and possibly more aggressive — bees.
        Her district includes much of the North Valley, a semi-rural area with more farms and crops.
        "To me, it's very important, especially in the valley, that we make sure that we provide a very healthy environment for bees," she said.

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