Bees are essential to food production. In response to the massive, global colony collapse problem, myriad urban beekeeping organizations have cropped up around the country. One such group, the Chicago Honey Co-op, was founded in 2004 and continues to expand its operations.
Being a registered agricultural cooperative in Illinois means that the nonprofit puts major issues to a vote of the entire membership, while letting the board of directors handle the finer, minor details. The Honey Co-op's 19 members keep bees at three apiaries around Chicago, offer classes and workshops to the public, sell products online and at local farmers' markets, and advocate for policies that support sustainable agriculture. They even have a honey CSA (community supported agriculture) program that costs $75 per year.
The Honey Co-op hosts 20 hives at Schulze & Burch Biscuit Company, a handful on the rooftop of Christy Webber Landscaping, another dozen hives in Back of the Yards, and a couple more at Patchwork Farms. Their Certified Naturally Grown products are available at Green City Market and Logan Square Farmers Market during Summer and Fall.
While bees and the honey they produce are at the center of what the co-op does, they go hand-in-hand with educating community members on the importance of healthy bee populations and sustainable agriculture practices through the Chicago Honey Co-op Training Center. Beekeeping, swarm control, and candle making are the three main topics covered by the co-op workshops. In addition, co-op trainers make visits to classrooms, community groups, and after-school programs in under-served communities to help spread the gospel of bees. They are also a partner in the preSERVE community garden project alongside the North Lawndale Greening Committee, NeighborSpace, and Slow Food Chicago.
Just like the bees they tend, the members of the Chicago Honey Co-op work together for the greater good.