Earth Week 2014: O’Hare Apiary Is Back with Lots of Buzz

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by David H. Robbins
Project Administrator, Environment and Sustainability
Chicago Department of Aviation

Three years ago, the CDA became the first major airport in the U.S. to host an apiary on its grounds. Beginning with 28 beehives and more than one million bees in May 2011, the apiary has since grown to 50 beehives and is the largest apiary at any airport in the world.

The “buzz-worthy” initiative was made possible through a job training partnership with the Chicago Department of Family Support Services and the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN). The apiary provides job training to ex-offenders in the form of beekeeping and the processing of honey and honey-based products including candles, soaps and lotions.  These products are sold under the beelove™ product label in stores at O’Hare and Midway Airports.

In the first year of operation, the apiary produced 1,200 pounds of honey –or more than 40 pounds of honey per hive. Last year, the apiary produced another 1,200 pounds of honey.  Despite one of the coldest and snowiest Chicago winters on record, almost half the hives survived the season, and are back for more honey production this year.

The on-airport apiary helps replenish bee populations, which have plummeted over the past decade because of parasites and dramatic temperature fluctuations.  Since approximately 1/3 of all the food we eat is pollinated by bees, the CDA is helping to stabilize the local population of honeybees so they can continue to perform their valuable ecological role.

The CDA’s apiary has received numerous accolades and positive press thanks to its ability to truly embody the concept of people, planet and profit. It received the Environmental Achievement Award from ACI-NA in the Outreach, Education and Community Involvement Award Category.  The CDA also received the Urban Land Institute’s Chicago Vision Award; and CDA Commissioner Rosemarie S. Andolino received a “Creating a Community That Works” award for work with ex-offenders.