While the city’s 2003 installation of the beehives on the roof of city hall was part of former mayor Richard Daley’s aim to make Chicago “the greenest city in America,” it was also meant to inspire and educate its citizens about beekeeping and the importance of bees and other pollinators in urban areas. Michael S. Thompson cares for seven hives for the city, including two in the 20,000-square-foot rooftop garden atop city hall. An avid beekeeper since receiving his first beehive as a 12th-birthday gift from his parents, Thompson is also cofounder and farm manager of the Chicago Honey Co-op.
“Honey bees require a very small footprint and can be placed anywhere in a sunny location,” says Thompson. “But as with all animals, they need a specific sort of care. This is not a passive undertaking.” He says aspiring beekeepers should take a class and read a book or two prior to caring for bees, adding that it’s good to speak with the neighbors, too. “There is a natural fear of bees, since they are good at defending their nests, if necessary. Otherwise, though, this insect has a very gentle nature.”
When Fairmont Hotels and Resorts launched its Green Partnership program in the 1990s, focusing on operational sustainability and community outreach programs, the company was open to unique ideas from staff. That motivated Vancouver’s Fairmont Waterfront Hotel housekeeping manager, Graeme Evans. A biology enthusiast, he approached management in 2007 with the idea of a small bee yard on the hotel’s third-floor terrace overlooking the ocean and mountains. When they agreed, Evans took classes to become an accredited beekeeper and now gives tours to hotel guests. They watch as he inspects six hives containing more than 350,000 bees and weighs the heavy honey frames dripping with the golden elixir that stars in the chef’s signature honey dishes. Fairmont later installed beehives at other North American hotels.
Like all beekeepers, Evans is passionate about his tiny charges but feels strongly about supporting all bees, not just honey bees, with our gardens. “If all of your plants bloom at the same time, it produces a great amount of honey, but then that’s not good for native species. Supporting honey bees is important, but supporting native species is just as important.”