Marty Johnson, president of Isles Inc., the organization that has redeveloped several neighborhoods in Trenton since it got under way in 1981, talks about urban farming efforts that include beekeeping.

“Yeah, we sure do,” Johnson says about keeping bees at the Isles office and plot of land on Tucker Street in downtown Trenton. “This will be the third year. We’ve had our first honey harvest. We harvested it last fall.”

So far the honey has become gifts “to people supporting important community work,” he says, but “we’re building up our capacity.”

“I think people recognize their importance in plant pollination. They (bees) go out five miles and are performing an important task. There’s a lot of mystery around bees. The research is becoming better about why colonies collapse. But there is still a lot that is unknown.

“I don’t want to simplify it too much, but there are people who see tomatoes and wonder why they’re not in cellophane in a supermarket. There’s no better way to learn about the environment than rolling up your sleeves and learning about it right here. This allows us the opportunity to do just that.”

Jim Simon, Isles’ urban agriculture manager and resident beekeeper, says, “We have two hives right now. One is at a demonstration garden we have here in town. When people visit they can see how the bees interact with vegetables and flowers. Later this year, people will be able to see a honey harvest. They’ll be able to see the frames and watch as we extract the honey and filter it.

“This will be the third year for one hive and the second year for another hive. We plan on starting a third hive this year. Another hive was recently introduced at another Isles location, Mill One in Hamilton.

When the hive is at its peak this summer, Simon estimated there could be 50,000 bees. “We do a lot of garden education and we teach kids in schools about the importance of pollinators,” he says.

But the enthusiasm for bees is tempered somewhat. Isles doesn’t take hives to schools, for example, but rather provides handouts on what honeycombs look like and the life cycle of bees.

Simon discusses the practicality of homeowners in city neighborhoods setting up hives in their backyards.

“That’s not something I would recommend,” he says. “The state has a program. The (New Jersey) Beekeepers Association is great; they have equipment they loan to members.

“Right now we’re still learning about bees, but sharing that with people is important and it’s also an opportunity to educate about biodiversity, to have a variety of sources of pollen for the bees and other pollinators.”

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