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'Bees grown in city healthier'.

There's a popular belief about honeybees: honey made by rural bees is healthier than urban bees, as the former is often portrayed as pollution-free. Many are unfamiliar with urban beekeeping because it has long been regarded as an agribusiness that's possible only in the pollution-free countryside.

Lee Jae-hoon, a beekeeper and the owner of APE Seoul (pronounced "ah-pae" meaning honeybee in Italian), said this is not scientifically correct, noting pesticide-free urban bees are healthier than rural bees.

He said bees raised in the city are cleaner and healthier than the ones grown in rural environments because they are less exposed to pesticides and more exposed to greater biodiversity, resulting in varied diet and stronger immune systems. Lee is just one of the many urban beekeepers across the world to claim this.

"Bees are very sensitive to chemicals. They will die from even the slightest spray of pesticides," Lee said.

"People have prejudice about urban beekeeping because they're suspicious of whether it's clean enough to eat honey grown in polluted urban environments. But in fact, urban beehives don't use any pesticides and urban bees have access to a variety of plant types."

Urban beekeeping has seen rising popularity overseas over the last decade, with countries such as Britain, United States and Japan leading the trend.

But it has only in the last couple years gained traction in Korea.

Even in the years that it has grown as a "hipster" trend here (largely led by Urban Bees Seoul, a beekeeping co-op that began five years ago), the activity was merely seen as a hobby and never really taken seriously.

Not only that, because of the limited amount of honey produced from these urban beehives, honey wasn't considered a sustainable commercial product, and more of a shareable gift.

Not until APE Seoul opened last month. Now, beekeepers are becoming commercially serious.

APE Seoul, run by a member of Urban Bees Seoul, is a "lifestyle shop" selling honey produced from urban beehives and honey-related products ranging from edible pollen to amenities such as soaps and lifestyle goods such as candles and books. It's also a cafe where they sell drinks such as honey lattes and desserts such as canele, all made with honey from their urban beehives. There, visitors can meet Lee Jae-hoon, beekeeper and owner of APE Seoul, dressed up in protective clothing for working with bees.

"I initially ran a cafe before opening here. Beekeeping became a hobby as I joined Urban Bees Seoul, a co-op founded five years ago by Park Jin. I was one of the founding members. Five years later, we have beehives on over 30 rooftops around the city, including buildings occupied by Hyundai Card, the British Embassy and UNESCO. We don't have to convince buildings to hold beehives anymore; they come to us," Lee said.

Lee's beekeeping journey began when he saw a video about making honey. It immediately drew his interest. It seemed "hipster" to him and he wanted to grow bees. Initially, he had a career spanning 15 years from engineering, performance planning, public relations and a coffee shop business.

"It's hard to explain the exhilaration from eating your own produce. I guess this is how farmers raising chickens feel when they eat the eggs. Honey makes you crave more. I think it is also symbolic of wealth. When you see it, you keep wanting more," he said, playfully.

"I opened this shop because Urban Bees Seoul needed an offline workshop to work with honey. I also thought it would be fun to have a themed cafe. I really love cafes but there are too many of them in Seoul. But this one is unique. I've never seen a honey-themed cafe before."

According to Lee, his store is the first and only one of its kind in Seoul.

"We can make a lot of things here and promote beekeeping. Honeybees are familiar to us from bedtime stories but we don't get to see them in real life. It's also an object of fear."

Beekeeping is not an easy job. It requires a lot of attention and care, let alone a lot of physical work.

"Urban beekeeping looks easy but it's just like farming. In the spring, we wake up the bees. It's during March and April -- this season -- that we wake them up from winter sleep. In the winter, we keep them warm in blankets. We open the beehive every week to check whether they're sick or whether they're safe from wasp attacks. We don't open the hive every day because the bees will get stressed," he said.

Although it's not mass farming, they produce just enough honey to sell in small gift boxes. Because the honey is harvested in the city, the concentration is not as thick as mass-produced honey which goes through heat treatment to make it thicker. When it's immediately harvested, the natural state is watery. The honey sold at APE Seoul is also of different colors, because the bees pollinate from different types of plants, bringing in different flavors and colors, unlike rurally cultivated ones that are only exposed to one type of plant.

"Last year, we harvested a little below one ton of honey. We usually harvest twice a year in the spring and fall. There are five beekeepers in our co-op taking care of the 30 locations in Seoul, three of whom are professional beekeepers," Lee said.

The mission of Urban Bees Seoul is to invigorate the honeybee ecosystem so there will be more bees in the city.

"Our mission is not to produce honey. It's to maintain the number of bees that are decreasing. Bees are an environment indicator species. That means if there are no bees, there will be no more almonds or oranges. Bees keep the virtuous eco cycle going."

Bees also help keep the environment clean. In order for bees to exist, the environment must be clean, with plenty of plants. In cities like Seoul, ranked higher up in the pollution index, bees can play an important role in helping clean the air by requiring more green.

"New York, London and Tokyo are ahead of us with plenty of urban beehives. They also have more parks. But surprisingly, Seoul also has plenty of greenery on mountains and hills which are a good environment for beekeeping," Lee said.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Apr 18, 2018
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