Since 2011, the CDA has housed an apiary at O'Hare which is home to 75 beehives and over 1 million bees, making it the largest apiary at any airport in the world as well as the first major on-airport apiary in the U.S. The initiative is made possible through a job training partnership with the City's Department of Family Support Services (DFSS) and the North Lawndale Employment Network(NLEN).
The apiary is located on the east side of the airport between Mannheim Road and I-294 in a previously vacant, undeveloped grassy area with no future land uses planned. At about 2,400 square feet and 3 feet high, the apiary is nestled amidst brush vegetation and scrub trees.
In its very first year of operation, the apiary produced 1,200 pounds of honey – that's over 40 pounds of honey per hive! The honey is processed and distributed as part of the Sweet Beginnings, LLC Beeline® product label. In addition to local, all natural honey, Sweet Beginnings also produces and sells honey-based skin care products such as moisturizers, exfoliators, lotions, shower gels, soaps, and lip balm at its online store and at retailers such as Whole Foods. Some of the Sweet Beginnings products, including the honey harvested from the hives, is sold at O'Hare in the Farmer's Market in the Terminal 3 Rotunda.
The NLEN operates the apiary and monitors and maintains the beehives. The CDA's partnership with the NLEN provides valuable job experience to ex-offenders and other disadvantaged persons in the North Lawndale community- not only in beekeeping, but also in collecting and processing honey for the production of candles, soaps, and skincare products. The training and work experience allows ex-offenders to transfer to many other positions in such industries as manufacturing, food service, distribution, warehousing, hospitality, and customer service, just to name a few.
"I've gained a deeper respect for going to work. The pride I feel every day going to work is immeasurable," said employee Darrell Williams in an ABC News press release. The success of the program encouraged the DFSS to extend its transitional jobs contract with the NLEN and expand the O’Hare apiary to 50 beehives in 2012 and 75 hives in 2014.
About 1/3 of all the food we eat is pollinated by bees, including 80 percent of all flowering crops in the U.S. each year. As bee populations have dramatically declined over the last two decades, so have yields of fruits and vegetables. O'Hare's on-airport apiary works towards replenishing bee populations, which have plummeted over the past decade due to parasites and dramatic temperature fluctuations. With more than 1 million bees, the O’Hare apiary allows the CDA to do its part to help replenish bee populations.
Urban apiaries are prominent in Chicago, having been installed atop the green roof at Chicago City Hall, Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Peggy Notebaert Museum, Wilbur Wright College, and in North Lawndale. These urban apiaries provide Chicagoans and fascinated visitors with a local source of all-natural honey, candles, soaps, fragrances, and moisturizers, and have helped maintain the populations of bees.
Airports in Germany including Hamburg, Munich, and Dusseldorf International pioneered on-airport apiary programs as early as 1999.
In addition to making honey, the apiaries in Germany are used to "biomonitor" the airport, ensuring the air quality next to aircraft arrival and departure paths is healthy enough for bees, an extremely sensitive insect. The honey produced at the airport apiaries in Germany and urban apiaries in Chicago may actually be healthier than in the suburbs where crops are more likely to be fertilized.