I believe that there is hope in the increasing uneasiness of people who see themselves as disposessed or displaced and therefore as economically powerless. Growing out of this uneasiness, there is now a widespread effort toward local economy, local self-determination, and local adaptation.
— Wendell Berry, Imagination in Place
We’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re going to survive on this “Eaarth,” but most of it needs to be done close to home. Small, not big; dispersed, not centralized.
— Bill McKibben, Eaarth
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like
— Freddie Mercury, “Bicycle Race”
FARM TO FORK
As studied by Rich Pirog at Iowa State University, food for the average Iowa consumer travels an average of 1500 miles from its harvest location to the dinner table. Pirog’s landmark paper has been mistakenly cited as a universal “farm to plate” distance for Americans. While the truth for your location may be shorter (or farther!), this study does emphasize the impacts of eating apples from New Zealand if, for instance, you live in Washington State.
No matter what, the impacts of using fossil fuel as the basis for food production, packaging, and distribution are extreme. Our answer: try to do as much as possible with human power.
BICYCLES TO THE RESCUE!
Bikes are small, mostly made of totally reusable materials, and create zero emissions. They are fun (downhills in Seattle!), healthy (uphills in Seattle!), easy on the roads, and have a natural distribution limit. (No one wants to ride 30 miles to deliver a single jar of honey — we tried that!) They’re social, easy to park, and you don’t need to feed them.
When I began beekeeping, I had no vehicle, so beekeeping by bike was pretty much the only option. Harvest was done by borrowing the neighbor’s pickup, and swarms were an improv adventure. Honey delivery by bicycle was a natural as well: Urban Bee Company started that in 2009, which might make us the first bike-delivery honey outfit in the nation (at least since the automobile became ubiquitious). As great minds think alike, there are now bike delivery honey companies in Chicago and Minneapolis. Go bikes!
Our beecycle is a simple hybrid Bianchi stock bike with no modifications. It’s not painted bee colors, although our black pants and yellow rain jacket make us almost look like a bee. We have had pleasant people yell “thank you for riding your bike!” out of a VW van, and friends (on bikes and in cars) wave and honk, all of which makes up for the near-death experiences caused by inattentive drivers on their cell phones.
I commuted on this Bianchi every day when I had office jobs, and also did the 200 mile Seattle-to-Portland jaunt one summer. Every single part except the frame itself has been replaced at least once; it’s heavy but keeps on trucking…. it has rolled about 5000 miles, makes it a teenager in bee-years. Many miles to go!
Our honey delivery is still a 100% human-powered endeavor: whether to our retail outlets or to our customers, honey travels carbon-emission-free. While bees have leg baskets for pollen we found panniers to be too limiting and carrying 15 lbs of honey in our backpack at a time seems to work just fine.
For trips to the bee-yard, we finally adopted a 1994 pickup truck, in an effort to meet some financial realities. (If someone wants to underwrite room, board, and child care costs, we’ll gladly change the business plan.) To minimize driving, we have consolidated clusters of backyard hives and begun allocating these to our apprentice and partner beekeepers. And for closer hives we strap hive parts to the bike rack, and put the veil and hive tools in the backpack.
Along with our existing hand-powered extraction, waste-free labels, and jar-return service, we are working towards a cargo-capable Beecycle 2, which will help make our operation completely zero-emission, just like the bees.
See you out on the road!