MADISON (WKOW) — It was a labor of love that started six years ago in Nathan Clarke’s backyard. But now, Mad Urban Bees is forced to close.
“I started beekeeping about 14 years ago right here in this backyard,” Clarke said while showing me where he keeps the bees.
Clarke had a vision to bring urban pollination to Madison.
“When I first started people were actually… had people come up to me and say that they didn’t have bees pollinating the gardens. A few people said they were even pollinating the cucumbers and tomatoes by hand because there weren’t any pollinators. So I felt that there was a real need for that kind of opportunity in Madison,” he said.
Part of what Mad Urban Bees did was to place beehives in people’s homes and yards.
“And we would maintain them,” Clarke said. “We would collect the honey and the host would get a share of that honey. I went from everywhere, from about 20 people my first year all the way up to 50 people last year.”
According to Clarke, the unpredictable weather this year affected the bees in a negative way.
“This year it was a really late start due to the cold weather and then the fact that it rained almost every day in August really affected honey production,” he said. “Just like a lot of things, bees like milder temperatures, even good rainfalls. But the cold really set them back. And it kind of was foretelling that this is going to be a rough year. I just had no idea how bad it was actually going to turn out to be.”
And when there’s no honey, there’s no money.
“The first year with Mad Urban Bees, I produced about 115 gallons of honey. I think the largest amount was well over 400 gallons of honey a couple of years ago. And then this year it’s 12,” Clarke said. “It’s very disheartening when you open up a hive and the bees look like they’re doing great, but there’s no extra honey in the hives for me to take.”
According to Clarke, other local beekeepers are also having a bad year. He said even some commercial beekeepers are moving their bees out of the state because it isn’t worth it to keep them here.
“I’ve talked to a number of beekeepers and they have said that this has been a very rough year in general. I’ve talked with some friends who run Capital Bee Supply who said that they talk with a lot of people and said that a lot of numbers are down.”
Mad Urban Bees may be going away. But Clarke hopes to keep it going in a different model.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for turning Mad Urban Bees into something that’s more education-based or more pollination-based. And I think that there’s a lot of community engagement, either through other businesses, schools, other organizations, that offer a real opportunity for Mad Urban Bees to transition into something not just me.”
Clarke has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise enough money to keep the lights on at his production space for the next six months.
“After six months, I’ll have a plan,” he said. “That’s really what the GoFundMe is for. To just give me that breathing room to come up with a plan, find out if other people are interested in joining me on this adventure. Or if not, to then come up with a plan for breaking it down to a hobbyist level.”