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San Francisco

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Insider Profiles

Host a Hive? You Can in S.F.

Robert MacKimmie"Bees are life-affirming. They do nothing but good stuff."


Robert MacKimmie of City Bees may have made a name for himself as San Francisco's preeminent urban beekeeper. But, surprisingly, he hasn't always been into the buzzy little busybodies.

His interest was first stoked by a class given by the San Francisco Beekeepers Association in December 1996. After that initial spark was lit, the fire was hard to extinguish. "When I take things on, I take them on seriously and learn them very deeply," MacKimmie explains over coffee in San Francisco's Marina neighborhood. "So I took on bees in a more ambitious manner than anyone I knew."

He started off keeping two hives, which quickly grew to six, and then morphed into 30-something. You might be wondering how MacKimmie had the space, time or wherewithal to maintain a whopping 30 hives in his yard. (Most San Franciscans aren't exactly drowning in outdoor space.) MacKimmie's model is unique in that it's community-based: He actually keeps his hives at other locals' houses. In this way, average San Franciscans who are interested in bees can experience the joys of owning them without the hassle of learning to take care of them.

How does it work? MacKimmie installs the critters in interested parties' backyards, stops by regularly to tend to the hives, and later gives each family a case of honey as "rent." He then sells the remainder of the amassed honey at local farmers markets. "I do all the work, [the families] enjoy the bees," he says.

And enjoy the bees they do. The folks MacKimmie works with "get really attached to their bees," he laughs. "They go out two, three, four times per day to watch them fly." What's so fascinating about the little buggers, anyway? "Bees are life-affirming. They do nothing but good stuff," MacKimmie explains. "They bring honey, pollen and propolis [a resinous mixture collected from trees]. We can use wax for candles [and] lip balms, and we can ferment the honey to make inebriating beverages!"

Having lived and worked in San Francisco for the past 23 years, the beekeeper has firm roots in his adopted city by the bay. Originally from Southern California, MacKimmie moved to San Francisco after receiving an MFA in fine art photography in Arizona. He decided to stay here because of the "beauty, ethnic diversity, languages, culinary nirvana, every form of recreation, incredible weather, the views, the general stunning nature of the landscape. …" It's clear that MacKimmie could keep going — he palpably loves his city.

And he just as visibly loves his work with both bees and local everyday folks. "I have keys to [people's] houses — I'm very trusted," he notes. "I become a part of the family in some way."

MacKimmie also attempts to expand his mission deeper into the community by working with local schools. As part of a greening initiative, Grattan Elementary School in Cole Valley invited MacKimmie to put hives on the roof (a safe distance from the children, of course). He safely brings the bees into the classroom in an "observation hive" in order to help educate students about bees and how "industrious and ambitious" they are. He has also maintained hives at the Children's Garden in the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Golden Gate Park and on top of the Bi-Rite Market in the Mission District.

Check out Robert's San Francisco.