At a time when a number of Virginia communities are considering new laws that encourage self-sufficiency, Fairfax City residents are pushing to make it easier to keep bees and harvest honey in their backyards.
It's already legal for city residents to raise bees at their homes. But the rules are so restrictive -- like requiring hives to be more than 100 feet from any property line -- that it's virtually impossible for would-be beekeepers to meet them, residents said.
So Fairfax City Planning Commission is considering loosening the city laws, possibly bringing them more in line with Fairfax County's much less restrictive rules for beekeeping. People living in the county are allowed to keep four hives on any lot that has a water source within 50 feet of the hives and a barrier within 10 feet.
Frank Walker, master beekeeper program coordinator for the Virginia State Beekeepers Association, said beekeeping was another way to promote self-sufficiency and "as important as recycling or conserving energy" because it helps increase the area's food supply.
The self-sufficiency movement is growing in Northern Virginia. Neighboring Arlington County is considering rewriting its laws to allow residents to keep chickens in their yards.
Virginia also provides a financial incentive for those who take up beekeeping. Gov. Bob McDonnell recently signed legislation that set aside $125,000 to promote the practice. Beekeepers can get grants of $200 for every hive they start, up to $2,400 a year, under the program.
"The goal is to encourage those who are reluctant to beekeeping to get involved," Walker said.
While the law changes are far from certain, beekeepers who presented the proposal recently to the Fairfax City Council -- along with free samples of honey for each council members -- found encouragement.
"I do hope that we can craft an ordinance that gives maximum flexibility to beekeepers within the city and certainly has all of the adequate protections for the bees themselves," said Councilman David Meyer. "Something close to [the county's ordinance] would make the most sense."