by Callie

Growing Hotel Trend: Urban Beekeeping & Gardens

It might seem an unlikely pairing, but urban beekeeping, rooftop gardens, and luxury hotels are a natural match. The best food comes from incredibly fresh ingredients, and upscale hotels contain restaurants that are the domain of talented chefs. Such culinary artists are well aware that the secret to a tantalizing and memorable repast is bigger than the sum of its parts. The fresher it is, the richer the flavor and succulence. After all, freshly harvested is what made farm-to-table dining in such demand. It has no rival.

Naturally, if you’re going to have rooftop gardens supplying the chef with just-picked-fresh ingredients…  you need bees to ensure that every square inch of your growing space is producing optimum harvests. Unless it’s a resort in some gorgeous tourist-magnet location, luxury hotels are situated where the action is; moments from the business hub, arts and culture, and nightlife. A wall to wall concrete environment planned for containing, producing and moving lots of people, goods, and money. Bee-friendly wasn’t part of the equation.

urban beekeepingHaving a highly productive chef’s garden on the 10th or the 20th floor kind of makes urban beekeeping a necessity, though it’s a big benefit to the street trees and Petunia tubs scattered down the sidewalks.  And using the honey created by your roof residents’ labor to sweeten dishes and drinks for patrons makes perfect sense. Some of these hotels also gift their guests with tiny pots of their rooftop honey, and others sell it. No matter how they make use of the end product – they’re enlisted in the efforts in sustaining bees and plant pollination across the US, in Canada, and around the world.

It looks like this beekeeping hotels movement started with the Fairmont group, where innovative chefs have maintained gardens for over 20 years. Today, they have 28 hotel and resort chef gardens worldwide, some on rooftops and some not, but the entire company is heavily into sustainability. The Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver, where beekeeping began in 2008, has both honey bee hives and a wild bee hotel in a third-floor terrace garden, where staff Bee Butler Michael King (pictured at the top of the page) conducts tours and teaches visitors about these all-important pollinators. Lots to buzz about going on here with their 500,000 bees and involvement in Hives for Humanity and the Pollinator Corridor Project.

Marriott’s Westin and W Hotels have taken up beekeeping too – notably atop the W Austin and the Westin Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Intercontinental also entered the rooftop gardening and urban beekeeping scene at their midtown Manhattan Barclay (2011), Times Square (2102), Boston (2010) locations, and they too have garden-to-table chefs in other countries.

Philadelphia’s abuzz this spring over the city’s first rooftop garden and beekeeping installation on top of the 17th Street Sofitel. Putting 500,000 bees to work isn’t that surprising, given that both the Sofitel and Fairmont chains belong to AccorHotels group where sustainability is big in daily operations. And San Francisco’s Clift Hotel has the Morgan Group adding their own 800,000 resident Urban Bee Sanctuary and herb garden for cocktails to the local environment, though unlike in the City of Brotherly Love across the country, they aren’t the only one of their kind.

The more you dig around for beekeeping hotels, the wider you find it spreads through the hospitality industry. Some of them have in-house beekeepers on staff, often someone from the kitchen, and others let a local apiarist manage their bees and the honey harvest too. It’s interesting that this makes each hotel chef’s creations just a little more unique with a signature varietal honey that adds notes of the plants in the rooftop garden and the surrounding neighborhood to each and every dish or drink it graces. What might really be fun to discover is if the garden planning would allow the chef to control the nuances in the sweet nectar harvested from his urban beekeeping hives. Rooftop honey could become as finely tuned as an excellent bottle of wine. Now that’s a signature ingredient!

Further Reading:

Feature image courtesy of Fairmont Waterfront. Inline image courtesy of Bee Grrl.

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Only strangers knock on the door at Callie's house. People who know her don't bother if the sun is shining - they know to look in the garden.