The USDA reports that as of 2014, the number of colonies managed by human beekeepers was at the highest it has been in 20 years. And after many major cities have passed laws allowing residents to raise their own bees, Detroit is hopping on the beekeeping bandwagon and boosting its bee population.
“We’re starting to see more bees in the city…Some people are planting urban farms, and they’re adding bees to help with the yield. Others are doing their part and placing hives in backyards to help the declining bee population,” said Timothy Paule, 34, who started a nonprofit with his girlfriend. The organization builds beehives on vacant city plots.
As the temperatures continue to rise, more and more Detroit residents are taking the initiative to start raising bees of their very own. This is a trend that has grown across many major cities, prompting them to lift beekeeping limitations and encourage small business opportunities.
Paule, however, is more focused on reviving the dwindling honeybee population. He has set a goal to add up to 200 hives around the city throughout the next 10 years through his nonprofit, called Detroit Hives. He’ll do this by buying lots that are vacant and making deals with nearby businesses that want to contribute to the global sustainability movement. He also hopes to educate children about the importance of bees.
“If all bees were to die, we’d all die in four to five years,” said Paule. “It’s a very serious issue.”
Beekeeping in rural areas has long been considered the norm. Urbanized beekeeping efforts, however, are a more recent development that has potential to grow.
“Bees play a very important role during our bloom period in pollinating all the blossoms,” said Kevin Robson, horticulture specialist for Michigan Farm Bureau in Lansing. “And, it’s not just fruit, they also pollinate cucumbers and zucchini and squash and tomatoes — and everything with a blossom.”
Of course, the benefits of urbanized beekeeping also extend to many of Detroit’s local business owners. Nearly 12 million trucks, rail cars, locomotives, and vessels move goods over the transportation network, but having the opportunity to source local honey is better for the environment due to decreased transportation costs. It also ensures maximum freshness and purity. Food prep takes almost a full day (22 hours to be exact), and locally sourced ingredients help many of Detroit’s small business restaurants improve both efficiency of operations and quality of food.
“The amount of people doing backyard beekeeping where they allow them has gone up a lot,” said Wrifton Graham, beekeeper and owner of Great Lakes Bee Supply in Galesburg. “Every year, it’s surprising just how many more people are getting into it.”
While there are currently about 43.3 million foreign-born people living in the United States, honey bees, also called the ‘workhorse of pollinators,’ came to America back in the 1620s with the earliest settlers. Initially, the bees quickly populated the country and flourished. But populations have been in steady decline since the 1940s, with the number of hives dropping from 6 million to about 2.5 million.
Ultimately, Paule, in addition to many other beekeeping enthusiasts in Detroit, is hoping that his efforts will continue to make a buzz.
“It’s a passion we are trying to develop,” said Paule about his nonprofit and beekeeping. “We know things we are doing are beginning to have an impact on our community. Our mission is to spread awareness and support the conservation of honey bees.”