Beekeeping sets community abuzz

By Emily Lepkowski

Feb. 17, 2016

Walworth County Beekeepers Club President Doug Grall advocated for urban beekeeping with a  personal story.

His 11-year-old son continuously asks him why bees aren’t allowed at their house.

“It’s been a great experience for my son and his friends to be able to participate and learn about  the importance of bees in our environment and to our food system and sustainability in general,” Grall said.

At the Feb. 8 meeting of the City of Whitewater Plan and Architectural Review Commission, held in the Whitewater Municipal Building, the six board members unanimously approved the ordinance to allow residential beekeeping in city limits.

Local beekeeper Peter Underwood presented his proposal, which focuses on four key points for residents partaking in residential beekeeping. The ordinance allows keepers to maintain one temporary hive and up to three hives to be sustainable. Flyaway barriers are required out of courtesy for neighbors as well as property line and minimum length restrictions for placement of the hives.

Underwood would require beekeepers to provide two water sources for the bees.

“I believe it to be an excellent crafted ordinance that Whitewater should adopt,” Underwood said. Citizens involved in urban beekeeping are required to provide a site plan to show the city where they are keeping bees within the guidelines. There is also a $10 fee for citizens to obtain an urban beekeeping permit.   

The long-time hobbyist beekeeper was motivated to create a plan for urban beekeeping in Whitewater after his involvement in the city. Underwood noted the increasing interaction between citizens of Whitewater and honeybees.

Underwood showed a photograph in his presentation of a honey cart outside his home each summer. Not only did he mention the joy it brings him to educate people who stop by, but he donates half of the proceeds from selling honey to a local charity. 

“I thought it was an important thing to educate the public and to provide a set of rules and regulations that would be beneficial to honey bees and whitewater,” Underwood said.   

Underwood worked with UW-Whitewater for the past three years maintaining hives on Fremont Street.  Underwood has collaborated with the university’s grounds crew at the request of Chancellor Beverly Kopper for environmental sustainability. 

Underwood also uses his beekeeping expertise to mentor and provide educational sessions to residents with specific regards to urban beekeeping.

Underwood has been keeping bees in his backyard for over a decade, addressing Colony Collapse Disorder that has had a strong impact on honeybees throughout the world. 

On average, Colony Collapse Disorder causes an annual bee hive loss of 30-40
percent. However, beekeepers in the Midwest lost 6o percent of their hives in the 2014-15 season. 

“Urban beekeeping is something I believe can help this problem,” Underwood said.   

Beekeeping in the community

Underwood’s urban beekeeping mentoring has sparked interest in the Whitewater community. Whitewater High School now keeps bees to help agricultural and science classes and Whitewater’s Fairhaven also has a bee sanctuary.    

Outside of education, employees of Casual Joe’s in downtown Whitewater showed interest in urban beekeeping and have established hives in the back of their restaurant.     

Underwood incorporated tips on “Bee-ing a good neighbor” to ensure the respect and safety of everyone in the community.   

Whitewater resident Anne Zarinnia stood up to voice her support of the ordinance during the open forum. 

“I think this is a huge contribution that we can make as a city,” Zarinnia said. “The value is absolutely massive, the more of us that do it, the better.”

Grall is on his fourth year of beekeeping.

“It’s provided an educational opportunity that I think is really important to our next generation,” Grall said.

“They need to understand the significance of what is happening with our environment so they can effectively make the changes that are necessary to create a sustainable environment,” Grall said.

Besides the sustainability and conservation efforts urban beekeeping offers, it is also an activity bringing families together.

While beekeeper and committee member Kristine Zaballos removed herself from the panel and took a seat in the audience during the proposal,  she did speak during the open forum. Zaballos said her kids are involved in the harvesting of the honey and they have also involved their exchange students.    

“The bees provide a lot of enjoyment for us to watch at home,” Grall said. “We’ve made it part of our family and part of our activities in the yard.”

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