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Urban Beekeeping with Alvéole’s Étienne Lapierre

Written by

Stéphanie Marois
October 18th, 2017

Categories


This summer, Never Apart tapped into its social and environmental consciousness even further by teaming up with Alvéole and installing two beehives on the centre’s rooftop. Urban beekeeping has now proven itself to be a growing movement, rather than a passing trend.

Montreal now counts 300 beekeepers and recognizes that bees offer ecological services in urban settings. I visited Alvéole’s headquarters to meet with Étienne Lapierre, one of its three cofounders.

Now, how do three twenty-something Montrealers get involved with beekeeping in the first place? Turns out Étienne Lapierre, Alexandre McLean, and Declan Ranklin Jardin spent many summers in their teens working for McLean’s uncle in Manitoba who managed 2,000 hives.

It offered them a break from the city and instilled in them a sheer fascination for bees. Lapierre explains how travelling to New York was a defining moment for the group: it’s where they discovered that urban beekeeping not only existed, but could also be successfully and sustainably exploited. That knowledge motivated them to install a single hive in downtown Montreal to assess if urban beekeeping was a possibility in the city.

Word always seemed to get around whenever Lapierre, McLean, and Ranklin Jardin came to inspect the hive; members of the neighbourhood would gather around and became invested in the hive’s development. “It made us revisit and relearn the trade we had acquired in Manitoba from a social aspect. We had a human contact in addition to a contact with nature […] Urban beekeeping has tremendous power to change our perspective towards the environment, and the nature all around us in the city. That’s when we decided to create a company whose mission is to reconnect people to nature through bees.”

Urban beekeeping takes advantage of unused spaces, creates a stronger sense of community, brings awareness to the value of biodiversity, and generates a (delicious) local product. What’s not to love? Bees? Almost every one of my friends had the same knee-jerk reaction I mentioned urban beekeeping. In truth, bees are vegan and rarely sting. When they do, they die so they’re not really looking to mess with you either. From the outset, Alvéole had to tackle preconceived notions and chose do so with humour and savvy. They’ve published naked calendars which feature some of their clients in the buff with their hives to show how safe and docile bees can be.

Alvéole’s main driving force has always been education and these guys have put their money where their mouth is. Alvéole has implanted urban beekeeping initiatives in 65 schools in the province (60 in Montreal and 5 in Quebec City).

“We just knew we had to integrate ourselves in that social sphere—schools are the best place to reach the largest audience. Our success is measured by the human element, by the number of people who get to take part in this experience. That’s what drives us, rather than profits.”

Each school forms a committee made up of students who then become the project leaders. These students take on an active role and care for the hives, discover the world of bees and share their newfound knowledge with their class mates and their parents, go through the extraction process, explore their creativity by designing labels and entrepreneurship by putting the honey for sale. The educational benefits are beyond significant. Lapierre also believes that projects like this can offer an alternative to the pessimistic view of the environment most people, let alone children, are currently presented. Small acts can have a positive impact, people can make a difference and change their environment.

Talking with Lapierre, I was struck by how little the team wants to make itself indispensable to rookie beekeepers. Quite the opposite. “The aim is to equip them with the necessary tools, offer support in order for them to become self-reliant with their hives and eventually pass on their expertise to others.” Another Alvéole project that exemplifies its commitment to community is its part in the social reintegration program with l’Accueil Bonneau. A team of twelve individuals in situations of homelessness is trained by Alvéole to maintain the 64 hives that have been installed on various rooftops across the city. The honey produced by the Bonneau beekeepers is then given back to the shelter and sold to help finance its operations.

What started as volunteer work four years ago has become the largest project that Alvéole manages; Lapierre is extremely proud of their involvement with l’Accueil Bonneau, how involved local artisans have gotten with the Miel de Bonneau campaign, and the concrete positive ramifications that helping the environment can have on people.

Up next for Alvéole is the development new areas of reconnecting with nature and rethinking our way of coexisting in urban settings. The organization is looking to expand into other cities (at the moment, there are offices in Montreal, Quebec City, and Toronto) with the implementation of new, fully autonomous locations. There’s also talk of adding flowers and plants next to hives on rooftops and rainwater harvesting. All sweet stuff!

Buzzworthy info (please forgive the pun, I couldn’t help myself)

—October is the Miel de Bonneau Month. Check out https://www.accueilbonneau.com/english/#/mieldebonneau/en/
-Urban hives remain outside during the winter after being insulated by beekeepers. The temperature inside a hive often reaches 35 degrees Celsius. In the long run, urban beekeeping hopes to acclimate bees to harsh Canadian winters.
—Honey produced from urban beekeeping will taste significantly different depending on the neighbourhood, such is the beauty of biodiversity.
—Less 20% of the honey consumed by Canadians originates from Canada. Please support local beekeepers and businesses.
-2018 is just around the corner, so I nominate Never Apart’s Dax and Michael for next year’s edition of Alvéole’s naked calendar… www.alveole.buzz

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