Chicago’s Airport: Bee-coming a Community
By Jan Bennett
The role of community often takes on different meanings for occupants of our vast nation. Where some might be abashed at having to start over, others find redemption in the opportunity for new beginnings. State of the Re:Union’s mission is to highlight communities who are able to create a beautiful mosaic with the broken pieces of a former existence. Who new that bees could be a part of that process?
The Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is engaging in what could be the start of an American version of the “airport beekeeping movement” that has been on the rise in Germany since 1999. Keeping bees at the airport was originally intended as a way scientist could monitor the air quality more easily. It has, however, blossomed into a unique new system that highlights true community.
A few years back in Washington State, the Sustainable Prisons Project was a collaboration between Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and the Washington State Department of Corrections that was developed as a way to reduce the prison’s environmental impact on the community. The benefits were two-fold: the first is obvious, but the second advantage was the therapeutic effect it had on the prisoners. A similar project at O’Hare airport is giving formerly incarcerated adults a sweet new beginning.
This effort is turning the airport’s wasted space into a way for ex-cons to have a productive, sustainable and creative way of life. Sweet Beginnings is part of an economic development agency in Chicago offering felons an opportunity to partake in the art of beekeeping. Thanks to a new partnership between the Chicago Department of Aviation and a local community group, there are now about 1.5 million bees creating a constant buzz on the 2,400 square foot apiary provided by the airport. There are now 23 beehives on schedule to produce around 575 pounds of honey this year, but that isn’t all the buzz is about.
The program participants learn the processes that are involved with making honey, candles and lotions. These product are then sold by a local producer and carrier of the bee byproducts, known as Beeline. Airport shopkeepers are rallying to aid in the success of this program through their intentions of stocking their shelves soon with these products.
There are many differences of opinion that have been voiced on initiatives such as this. One differing view brings up environmental concerns regarding the final product coming from a place in such close proximity to spent jet fuel. Whatever the controversial issues, one thing can not be denied: Bees are helping the community work toward solutions that help the environment and make people smile.
If there are more pros and cons, what are there and why does they matter? Is it enough that a fresh beginning is being given to people who need a little help? Is there another way to implement a similar program yielding comparable results? We’d love to know your thoughts and invite you to share them with us.