Bybi: How Society Can Learn From Honey Bees

Last week I had the pleasure of going along to Bybi to embark on a ‘hive to honey jar’ adventure. The event was part of Copenhagen Cooking, a two week festival which claims to be the largest food festival in northern Europe, crammed with over 150 events across the city. Clearly, I was going to be interested in any insect-related event, so the fact that I leaped at the chance to explore Copenhagen’s honey bee hives wasn’t really surprising.

Bee larvae: fatty, creamy and nutty like hazelnuts.
Anna and I at the bee hives
The hives themselves. Bees enter at the bottom, honey is collected at the top
Scraping away the waxy propolis to get to the honey
Gonna get me some honey (from a centrifuge)
Bybi literally means ‘Bee City’, and while this does explain the organisation in terms of its geographical location (within the city of Copenhagen) and its purpose (urban bee keeping), there is much more to the name than you think.
The founder, Oliver, realised that bee hives are, in themselves, little bee cities:

“The bee hive reflects human society; it is a democracy, an organised hive with a Queen Bee and female workers tirelessly producing and enriching the environment around them”. He jokes, “Then you get the Drones, the men of the hive: they are eyes, balls and nothing else. They are fat, lazy and stay indoors. In a way, that’s a reflection on human society too…

What is most pertinent is how honey bees organise themselves and use their skills not to destroy the environment around them but to produce to support and make their society more colourful. It is this message that inspired Oliver to use bee hives as a model for how society should be – colourful, supportive and built on strong relationships. 

“We believe that our city will be even lovelier when all businesses are rooted in the local community. That’s why we rent beehives to the city’s businesses”. 

Not only does this make a refreshing change from the common dichotomisation of nature and culture, but it also turns our relationship with nature on its head: we should not aim to overcome or harness nature, but use ecosystems and their intricacy to learn and build sustainable societies.
“Show me the honey” – Not only sustainable, but Bybi has a sense of humour too…
Bybi’s organisational structure is a case in point. The hives are produced in collaboration with Sundholm, an activity centre with a wood workshop. Going from hives to homes, Bybi also has teamed with charities to provide social housing projects. Residents – including asylum seekers, homeless and long term unemployed groups, and refugees – are then provided with the bee hives and skills to become bee keepers.
Overall, a network is created between the honey bees, ecosystems, different organisations and individuals living in Copenhagen; all of which is built on social enterprise, sustainability and capacity. 
Alongside sustainability, diversity is also encouraged. Every district has distinct flora, so every hive will produce a different colour and taste of honey; a reflection of the diversity of people and ecosystems in Copenhagen.
Even the products themselves are supportive of a diverse utilisation of honey bees. Instead of domesticating honey bees simply for honey production, the other byproducts such as bee bread (a protein-rich amalgamation of pollen and honey) and the bee larvae are sold locally. The honey is also used to make confectionary, beers and ice cream.
Bybi beer. Bien.
To communicate the above and showcase their products and passion, Bybi hosted a seven course meal in collaboration with the local pop-up Skeletske. By combining a variety of different honeys from Copenhagen and using local, foraged and Nordic ingredients, each course held a unique story which merged society, ecology and gastronomy together. 
Honey from different Copenhagen districts, pollen, propolis and bee bread. Lit up by a bees wax candle
For me, the highlight was the pickled mackerel with honey and bee bread. Bee bread is essentially the pulverised pollen and honey that is used as food for worker bees. It has an initial flavour similar to silk worms (which, as they are domesticated and fed mulberries, have a grassy aroma and flavour), then gets sweeter as you chew it. In Nordic cuisine, mackerel with sour dough or rye is a classic, and so the bee bread morsels helped give a similar nutty, malty flavour to the dish.
Sour wild plum, biodynamic pork braised in honey beer, foraged herbs.
If you’re a sucker for sweet dishes, the three dessert courses were also a treat. We were enticed with blackberries, raw cacao and foraged herbs, drizzled with honey from the Copenhagen Botanical Gardens. This particular honey tastes incredibly floral and has mint undertones, hence the combination with cacao to give a bitter-sweet mint chocolate dish. This followed an apple (pickled, dried and fresh), sheep’s milk and honey dish with malted sponge cake, along with a honey ice cream topped with dehydrated bee larvae.
Foraged blackberries, honey from botanical gardens, wild flowers and cacao nibs
As all good dinners should, we ended the evening with a strong drink. Queue the rum.
This was no ordinary rum, but honey-infused rum made from a unique blend of Vienna, old Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago rums. With 10g of honey per litre, the result was dry, spicy with a hint of sweetness.
As we sat there sipping at this liquid gold, we also were invited to enjoy the aromas of propolis. Melted in hot water, propolis – the resinous substance used by bees to fill holes in the hive – gives off a sweet, clean and waxy aroma. This, combined with the spicy tropical rum, and a cup of strong black coffee epitomised the evening’s wonderful atmosphere.
Rum (well, I drank it…sorry), black coffee, propolis
It was clear just how much effort – both mental and physical – had gone into these seven courses. From foraging to cooking, from distillation to infusion, and from bee hive to plate, every effort translated into a thought-provoking and delicious evening. Perhaps most importantly, it was unique, utilising seasonal foods, distinct environmental surroundings, skills from diverse members in Copenhagen’s society, and the hard work of honey bees.
The realisation that this event was not replicable made you savour it even more so, and I strongly hope that the same appreciation can be applied to the unique and diverse ecosystem and society in which honey bees thrive in. 
We could utilise farmers to hand-pollinate our fruits and flowers; we could try and think of technical fixes to monitor honey bee populations, but without honey bees our ecosystem and agri-food systems will never be the same.
 
Let us not be lazy drones in this, but be the workers.
Become an active agent in campaigning (UK, US) towards the protection of honey bees; host a brunch to honour the bees; plant bee-friendly flowers, herbs and plants such as chives, bluebells, thyme; support local apiaries; and embrace the colourful diversity and societal richness one can achieve if we all just learned a lesson or two from these fundamental insects.
Bybi gets a huge thumbs up from me
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One comment

  1. When we moved into our first home, we discovered our neighbors ran a small honey bee farm. The habits of the bees were amazing and we learned so much from observing them. At first, we were anxious about being so close the farm but it turned out to be an incredible experience to observe them firsthand.

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