Magazine article The New Yorker

Stingers

Magazine article The New Yorker

Stingers

Article excerpt

On one of those indecisive early winter afternoons--warm in the sun, nippy out of it--Chucker Branch and Christine Lehner, his partner, were on the roof of the Whitney Museum, winterizing their bees. Lehner had on a white canvas bee jacket with attached hat and veil, but Branch, who is six feet seven inches tall and has a shock of white hair, doesn't go in for protective gear. He stripped off his sweatshirt, because "bees don't like fleece, for some reason," and began pumping smoke from a handheld smoker down into one of the two wooden box hives that he had installed there. "It tells the bees that there's a forest fire and they need to load up on honey and not worry about--well, us," Lehner, who is about five-five and brimming with bee information, said. "That's the theory, anyway."

Branch and Lehner have nine hives in Hastings-on-Hudson, where they live, and the idea of putting hives on city rooftops occurred to them about five years ago, when a friend gave Lehner a jar of honey from bees that lived, boulevardier style, on top of the Paris Opera. They also learned that the Tate galleries, in London, have bees, whose honey is sold in the gift shop; that Fortnum & Mason sells honey from hives on its roof; and that the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt, and the Winterthur Museum, in Delaware, market their own honey. "Roofs," Lehner said, "are the great underutilized resource in New York City."

So far, Branch-installed bees are producing honey on top of the Natural Resources Defense Council, on West Twentieth Street, and on the roofs of two private houses on the Upper East Side, one of which belongs to the Whitney's director, Adam Weinberg. Weinberg and his wife, Lorraine Ferguson, had heard about Branch, and they thought that beekeeping might appeal to their ten-year-old daughter, Kira, which it did. Introducing bees at the Whitney was the obvious next step. Sixteen months earlier, it would have been illegal. A law against keeping wild animals in city apartments was passed during the Giuliani administration, and the prohibited species included bees. In 2010, the city's Board of Health passed a bill, introduced by the Brooklyn councilman David Yassky, that exempted bees, and beekeepers in the five boroughs rejoiced.

Initially, the plan was to sell the honey through Untitled, the Whitney's restaurant, but the hives weren't installed until last July, too late for the first harvest, and the fifty pounds they produced last year wasn't enough to market. …

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