Woman wanting backyard beehives gets stung by city code

Woman wanting backyard beehives gets stung by city code

Published: Jun. 15, 2023 at 10:53 PM CDT

OTTAWA, Kan. (KCTV) – Many people consider starting a home business as a way to bring in extra cash, but when Ellen Finnerty was planning her business, the city told her “no.”

Ellen wants to produce honey with backyard beehives and sell the honey at local farmers markets. When she checked with the city of Ottawa, she was told it’s not allowed. She was sent a copy of the city codes, which prohibit home occupations that involve “animal care of any type.”

“The bee is the state insect,” Finnerty points out. “I thought insects would be okay.”

Finnerty posted about her situation on social media and got the attention of Sam MacRoberts, an attorney with the Kansas Justice Institute. MacRoberts is also a beekeeper and is now suing the city on Finnerty’s behalf.

“The city of Ottawa is a good city with some really bad laws,” said MacRoberts.

The lawsuit points out that violating home-based business protections is punishable by up to six months in jail and a potential $500 fine. The city code would allow Finnerty to have bees — she just can’t sell the honey.

“This is just letting me have the right to be able to do something I should be able to do,” said Finnerty. “This is my home. This is my land.”

While the lawsuit is about Finnerty and her backyard, at its heart, it’s about so much more.

“This also has bigger implications,” said MacRoberts. “Really, we want to make sure that it’s easier for people to start home-based businesses. We want to make sure that it’s easier for people to follow their dreams and to live the life they want to live.”

Finnerty is serious about having beehives. She’s planned her garden around what’s good for them. She took classes at Johnson County Community College to learn about beekeeping.

Rob Hughes teaches the classes. He’s been beekeeping for more than 50 years. He said his are among the most popular continuing education classes the college offers. The college has several hives on campus.

“We’ve expanded in 20 years from one class to about eight,” said Hughes. “A lot of classes fill up, you know? It’s a lot of fun.”

He said learning about bees brings a better understanding of the insects.

“They’re very, very gentle,” said Hughes. “They have no malice. They don’t want to sting us. All they want to do is collect honey and work and build their hive.”

And, he said, bees are great neighbors.

“Bees are very good for the environment,” said Hughes. “A lot of folks, it brings them closer to nature. It helps your gardens out. It’s all good… It’s all good.”

Bees are crucial to our food supply. The FDA reports about one-third of food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollenated by honeybees.

“Shouldn’t I have the freedom to be able to grow some stuff and sell some stuff that’s safe and healthy?” asked Finnerty.

We checked in with Eric Crowley, the mayor of Ottawa, about the lawsuit. He declined an interview, citing the ongoing litigation, but he did send a response: