If the only reason you go to the North Lawndale neighborhood is to see the original Sears Tower during Open House Chicago, then you might not be familiar with the North Lawndale Employment Network.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the organization: NLEN helps people find jobs when they get out of prison. One way it does that is by employing people to manufacture its own brand of personal care products made with honey. Think soaps, lotions, and other stuff you rub on your body. Its work has even been mentioned by The New York Times.
To do that, it needs bees. Lots and lots of bees. So it has apiaries where the little buzzers can do bee things that result in that sweet golden nectar that’s so good on toast and gingham-frocked tables at farmers markets.
The world is running out of bees. Without bees, there is no food. And without food there is no you.
One thing that can be done to save the world is to help bees be. NLEN does this with the apiaries it owns and from which it harvests the raw materials for its products, which in turn helps people in North Lawndale put food on their tables. But there will be no apiary on the roof of 1111 South Homan Avenue, thanks to the buzzkills at the Chicago Department of Planning and Development. They say having a bee hotel on the building and allowing the packaging of honey there “would change the character of the development.”
If you’re wondering what the local character is, according to Google Maps, 1111’s neighbors include a high school, a couple of churches, the Chicago Police Department’s prostitution detail and the Chicago Police Department’s evidence lockers. Apple Maps also cites an urban farm, and a beekeeping supply store.
So now we now know that an urban farm and a beekeeping supply store are in keeping with the character of the neighborhood, but actual bees are not.
The city’s Department of Aviation is a little more with it than Planning. It not only donated land around O’Hare Airport for NLEN’s apiaries, the honey is sold inside the airport.
This isn’t the first time that bees and the criminal justice system have rubbed elbows. The Cook County Sheriff’s Department has a program that teaches inmates about beekeeping, so they can get a job when they’re sprung.
According to Block Club Chicago, there are over 400 registered beekeepers in Cook County, and 1,700 bee colonies. So urban beekeeping isn’t exactly a fringe activity.