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Honeybee program taking off at O’Hare

Workers tend beehives Sweet Beginnings Chicago's west side. A similar program has begun O'Hare Airport. | AP

Workers tend to beehives at Sweet Beginnings on Chicago's west side. A similar program has begun at O'Hare Airport. | AP

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Updated: July 6, 2011 9:57AM

It’s all the buzz out at O’Hare Airport: Sweet Beginnings has landed.

The nonprofit North Lawndale Employment Network’s bee-farming program has established 33 beehives on airport property — making O’Hare the first U.S. airport to incorporate apiaries in a conservation program.

Airports in Europe have used apiaries in landscaping as part of sustainability efforts for years, and O’Hare’s 7,000 acres offer much unused open space.

The Sweet Beginnings bees and their keepers arrived in March on 2,400 square feet of vacant, undeveloped, grassy land on the east side of O’Hare. Future landscaping is planned to support the bees, with bird- deterrent plant varieties, of course.

“We’ve been pursuing a whole variety of green initiatives for many years now, and O’Hare is recognized as a leader in sustainability nationally and internationally,” said Amy Malick, deputy commissioner of sustainability for the city Aviation Department. “Airports in Germany were the first to embark on apiaries. They have been doing this for a decade or so. We’re really proud that we’re the first to follow suit in the U.S.”

Sweet Beginnings is the nationally lauded program of the North Lawndale group headed by award-winning CEO Brenda Palms Barber. The progam helps ex-offenders and other residents of that impoverished West Side community find permanent jobs.

Palms Barber started Sweet Beginning 10 years ago to create temporary green jobs for her clients while they complete job-training and readiness programs. It produces Beeline honey and natural honey-based personal care products.

Barber’s group hopes to establish an apiary at Midway Airport within the next year, and future plans at O’Hare call for their Sweet Beginnings products to be sold through O’Hare’s food service programs and via a kiosk or storefront.

“This is a multi-pronged program that has an environmental, a social, and ultimately, an economic component,” Malick said. “We’re giving bees a chance to survive in a pretty difficult environment, and people’s gardens nearby hopefully will benefit. We’re providing opportunities for advancement for the disadvantaged population Sweet Beginnings serves, and we’re looking at the opportunity for Sweet Beginnings to sell their honey at the airport. So this is a very strong initiative.”

The Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Agriculture Department approved teh project.

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