Walk the Talk with Nathan Clarke

December 12, 2011 at 11:52 am Leave a comment

Nathan Clarke

He’s a home-brewer.  He’s a bread maker.  He’s a science fiction reader. Nathan Clarke is an avid bee keeper and the founder of Madison Urban Bees LLC.  There’s no better way to say it than how Nathan said it himself. “I’m a busy bee.”  With a passion for honeybees and a drive to share his honey with the greater Madison community, Nathan Clarke has kindly shared a bit of information about his project.

As a resident of Madison since 1998, Nathan became involved with beekeeping through his wife’s uncle who convinced him to start a hive.  Though his first year as a beekeeper resulted in a failure, Nathan notes that he has “caught the buzz” in the last five years. Though it may come as a bit of a shock, Nathan is in fact allergic to bees.  To deal with this, Nathan has received allergy shots once every five weeks for the past three years.  Fortunately, Nathan has only had to use his EpiPen just twice in his life. He happily notes that the allergy is lessening through eating his honey while the anaphylactic reaction to the bees is lessening due to the medial allergy shots.

When asked to describe Mad Urban Bees LLC, a newly launched food project as of July 2011, Nathan spoke of it as a new type of urban agriculture.  The idea behind Mad Urban Bees LLC is to spread hives throughout the Madison community in the backyards, back lots, and rooftops of willing bee advocates. Completely voluntary, the hosts involved in the project share Nathan’s interest in promoting the benefit bees bring to our ecosystem in an urban food landscape. When asked about the benefits, Nathan highlighted three: honey to sell, food for the community, and pollination for the community.

Mad Urban Bees LLC

As with any project, Nathan has determinately confronted a range of challenges including organizing a plan project as well as learning the local laws surrounding beekeeping.  With just two beehives in his backyard, Nathan has called on the Madison community for help in establishing one of the first urban apiaries in the country. Through Mad Urban Bees LLC, Nathan looks to expand from the two hives in his backyard to 40-50 in the Madison metropolitan area next spring.  To make this goal a reality, Nathan is using Kickstarter to raise money to buy hives, bees, queens, and equipment. For Nathan, it is more than producing honey and selling it.  It is about community. The bees will be pollinating the city’s gardens and flowers.

Similarly, Nathan has made brief contact with the  Dane County Beekeepers Association to learn the laws of beekeeping.  He is pleased to be included in their discussions of new proposals. When asked about the future of Mad Urban Bees LLC, Nathan simply replied, “I see a lot of work.”  In addition to working through the challenges stated above, Nathan hopes to  develop an education component.  With this, Nathan would like to see kids in school have the opportunity to learn about bees and honey.  In the interview, Nathan stressed the importance of people needing to understand the differences between wasps, which are omnivorous (the ones highly interested in your hotdog and soda) whereas bees, are vegetarians and have no interest in your afternoon picnic.

To learn more about the bees themselves, I asked Nathan to expand on a statement he made in an article from the Wisconsin State Journal wherein he noted, “Bees are in trouble.”  To start, Nathan explained that bees are under stress from disease, parasites and large-scale agriculture.  As an example, he talked about a monoculture crop of almonds in California.  In this specific example, bees are used as a topical spray to crops.  Because the crop of almonds is a monoculture, bees only have one kind of food.  Likewise, bees are starved of protein when they are fed corn syrup. Nathan went on to explain that bees need a variety in their diet.  “When they don’t get it, they become nutritionally deficient–bees get sick.”  To conclude, he spoke further on the creation of new pesticides as an obstacle to bee survival.  Bees feed and take in neurotoxins.  The bees then bring it back and concentrate it in their hives.  Nathan remarked, “There is no magic bullet for bees.  So many factors, no single cure.” A grim conclusion concluded the discussion.  No bees equals the collapse of agriculture. For more information on the colony collapse, Nathan recommended the documentary,”Vanishing of the Bees.”

Nathan also highlighted the fact that 75% of honey in grocery stores isn’t pure honey.  This means that it has been cut with corn/rice syrup. Nathan briefly described the illegal smuggling of honey which is nothing more than a bit of natural honey added to the so-called “honey” at a cheap cost.  He went on to say, “honey laundering is very, very high tech. The groups that are doing this use very scientific methods of nano partial removal to rid the honey of any pollen grains to mask the country or origin. This filtering process does not filter out heavy metals like mercury, pesticides or antibiotics.”  This means that the mercury, antibiotics, and pesticides remain in the honey. Nathan concluded, The FDA doesn’t define honey, allowing big food companies to buy cheap foreign honey. Local beekeepers can’t compete.”

A busy bee hard at work!

A few last notes from Nathan:

Q: Why should people buy your honey?

A: 1) “It tastes great.”

2) You’re supporting local business, you’re supporting local agriculture.”

3) “My honey is raw unfiltered honey.

Q: What is the most important thing you want people to know about Mad Urban Bees LLC?

A: “Without the community, I can’t exist.”

Q: What tips do you have for aspiring beekeepers?

A: “Take the plunge. Get bees in early spring. Talk to people. Visit another beekeeper.”

A special thanks to Nathan for his time in the interview and his enthusiasm for beekeeping! Feel free to contact Nathan at nathan@madurbanbees.com or make a donation to his Kickstart internet fundraising project here.

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Entry filed under: businesses, community, food, Kids, other, people.

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