Since 2011, the CDA has housed an apiary at O'Hare which has been home to as many as 75 beehives and over 1 million bees, making it one of the largest apiaries at an 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. 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! The Certified Naturally Grown honey is processed and distributed as part of the Sweet Beginnings beelove™ 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. The beelove™ products are sold at O’Hare and Midway in Hudson News stores operated by HMS Host and at the O’Hare Farmer’s Market kiosk in the Terminal 3 Rotunda. Products are also sold online (www.beelovebuzz.com) and at retailers such as Whole Foods, Mariano’s, and Hudson News in the Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago. Beelove™ honey is also a featured ingredient at award-winning celebrity chef Rick Bayless’s Tortas Frontera restaurant located in O’Hare Terminals 1, 2, and 5. The restaurant has been voted ‘top ten airport restaurants’ by USA Today, Frommer’s, and GQ Magazine.
The interdisciplinary partnership between Sweet Beginnings, the NLEN, the CDA, and the DFSS provides valuable job experience to returning citizens with few marketable skills and little or no work experience and other disadvantaged persons in the North Lawndale community. Workers not only perform beekeeping, but also collect and process honey for the production and sale of candles, soaps, moisturizers, lip balm, and other beelove™ products. The NLEN operates the apiary and monitors and maintains the beehives. With help from the O’Hare apiary, Sweet Beginnings employs on average 30-40 men and women annually who otherwise might struggle to secure a job due to lack of work experience and criminal backgrounds. In fact, more than 500 participants have completed the program. The training and work experience allows ex-offenders to transfer to many other positions in industries such as manufacturing, food service, distribution, warehousing, hospitality, and customer service, just to name a few. The job training not only provides employees with an income, but a renewed sense of pride and confidence. The repeat-offense rate for former Sweet Beginnings employees is traditionally below 10 percent compared to the national average of 65 percent and the Illinois average of 55 percent.
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.
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 Certified Naturally Grown honey, candles, soaps, fragrances, and moisturizers, and have helped maintain the populations of bees. Inspired by O’Hare, other airports around the world have been inspired to implement their own apiary program, including Seattle-Tacoma, Lambert-St. Louis, Indianapolis, Montreal-Mirabel, Copenhagen, and others.
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. For instance, in August 2015, Sweet Beginnings won an Illinois State Fair Blue Ribbon "First Premium" award for its honeycomb produced at O'Hare. Judges were impressed by the O'Hare honeycomb's high quality and cleanliness.