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The Copenhagen City Honey Cooperative

Author: Delphi Jarrett
Published Date: 15 October 2010

The Copenhagen City Honey Cooperative brings bees back to the city, provides concrete jobs in a reinvigorated traditional industry, and involves all Copenhageners in creating a city that literally buzzes with life.

After the 2009 Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Oliver Maxwell met an emigrant beekeeper and began to learn more about honey industry. Oliver was surprised by the extent of decline in the bee keeping industry across Europe. Bees can no longer survive without beekeepers. New agricultural methods, exotic bee diseases and climate change, coupled with a decrease in the number of traditional beekeepers mean the Danish honey industry is under threat. As imported honey puts increasing pressure on the remaining locally produced honey, Oliver Maxwell decided to develop a new generation of city beekeepers.

The challenge was to get the right people to meet. Oliver began to spend winter evenings meeting beekeepers and biologists, and learning about bees. He brought together a group of development workers from housing associations and employment projects who were engaged with social problems and the local labour market, and leaders from businesses and from the municipality who could advise on how to access experts and resource. They all began to see the benefits of working together to build a cooperative and develop the honey industry in Denmark.

In the spring of 2009, they agreed on a structure for the cooperative. They planed to start five new bee farms, each one training 12 new beekeepers, bringing 15 new bee colonies to the city – that means three million new bees and 60 new beekeepers every year. In addition, they aimed to build a honey factory which would provide protected jobs in honey treatment, and to market and sell urban honey products to Copenhageners. Beekeepers began to get interested and the project was endorsed by the local and national beekeeper associations. With the help of pro bono legal and business support, they created a successful business model which became a template for other Danish social enterprises. Key businesses offered their roof spaces and grounds for beekeeping.

Finally, in august, the project was formally launched. 30 beekeepers, development workers and beekeepers came together to join the association. Five social projects – among the best known nationally – signed up for the pilot. By reigniting consumers interested in traditional high quality Danish honey, Oliver Maxwell both helped save Denmark’s honey industry, contributed to the wider Danish economy, creating employment opportunities for immigrants to Denmark who were struggling to access the mainstream labour market, and stimulated a new way for Danish people to live in a greener city, full of flowers, insects, vegetables and higher quality of life for its inhabitants.