It’s a plane! No, it’s a bee! O’Hare Airport in Chicago is now the first US airport to house a beekeeping operation on its vacant land. The O’Hare apiary is 2,400 square feet with 23 beehives, expected to produce 1600 pounds of honey this year.
Starting in May, the Chicago Department of Aviation partnered with community group Sweet Beginnings to produce the apiary. Sweet Beginnings, an offshoot of a local economic development agency, uses honey to create skin products sold under the brand name Beeline at Chicago area Whole Foods.
Common in Germany (since 1999), airport apiaries can be helpful in monitoring air quality. Honeybees are particularly sensitive to air contamination. Making 2 pounds of honey requires bees to visit 15 million flowers, traveling 150,000 trips between the hive and the field to gather roughly 6 pounds of nectar. As the bees do their work they pick up air contaminants that have settled on the flowers they visit. Their honey serves as a concentration of all these pollutants and is therefore a great sample of the pollution in the area.
But this project benefits more than just the bees and air. It is also a site for employment of formerly incarcerated adults. Sweet Beginnings offers full-time transitional jobs, training ex-inmates in caring for bees and hives, harvesting honey, and making honey, candles, and lotions for the Beeline brand.
The O’Hare apiary actually appears to serve four main purposes with great benefits for all involved. It is: 1) growing quickly diminishing bee populations which pose a great threat to agricultural production, 2) finding a use for vacant airport land that cannot be developed due to crash-landings, 3) testing air quality with minimal strain on resources, and 4) employing ex-convicts who have difficulty finding full-time work in our current economy.
Let’s hope that the airport apiary movement keeps growing throughout the United States!