High-Rise Honey Bees

Hives downtown help environment and attract tenants

Michael Thompson of Chicago Honey Co-op installs beehives on the roof of 540 West Madison, a downtown office building. Tenants get to enjoy the honey the bees produce. (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune )

BY ALLY MAROTTI  CHICAGO TRIBUNE  5.21.17

Bill Whitney rolled up to the loading dock of a Near West Side high-rise with about 9,000 honeybees riding shotgun in his Chevy.

The pickup truck, sporting license plates that read “B SAVER,” was overflowing with the parts needed to construct three hives for all those bees on top of the 29th-floor roof of 540 West Madison, the West Loop home to firms such as Bank of America, biopharmaceutical company Shire and slot machine-maker Everi.

While human worker bees buzz about in offices below, the rooftops of some Chicago commercial buildings are becoming hubs of activity in their own right as landlords employ tens of thousands of bees in an effort to simultaneously help the environment and rope in some eco-friendly tenants.

Building owners and managers say it’s an easy formula: Set aside a few thousand dollars in the budget, contract with a beekeeper and, come autumn, enjoy fresh honey. Some have come to view the hives as an amenity, like rooftop gardens or water recycling programs. Tenants appreciate the honey and the efforts to help save the honeybees, a species under threat in the U.S. from a deadly combination of pesticides, loss of habitat and parasites.

And it’s cool, building managers say.

“It’s exciting because it’s not something you would expect in an urban area,” said Louise Harney, a vice president and group manager at Jones Lang LaSalle, the firm that manages 540 West Madison. “We’ve had people want to be here because of our sustainability program, and beekeeping is a part of that.”

Up on the roof Tuesday, Whitney orchestrated the bees like a conductor. Hive by hive, he released the bees, contained in three shoebox-sized containers, pouring them by the thousands into their new home. He stood among them as they swarmed up and around, scouting the area and creating a cloud over the high-rise.

Last year, 540 West Madison collected about 100 gallons of honey, the building’s first harvest. Much of the honey was bottled in 3-ounce jars and passed out to tenants, visitors and students who came for a tutoring program. The building managers put the jars in gift bags and handed them out around Thanksgiving and Earth Day. Slightly Toasted, the sandwich cafe on the building’s ground floor, used the honey in some of its specialty drinks.

The building expects to spend about $2,400 to maintain the hives this year, Harney said.

The staff at Everi’s development center on the 24th floor devours the honey every time building management brings it around, said Bradley Rose, senior vice president of game development. They usually drop some off around holidays or when they give building visitors a tour of the company’s office space.

“It’s so good it usually never makes it home,” he said. “We’ll go to town on it.”

Rose remembers the honeybees being part of the sales pitch when he was searching for office space for Everi’s 60-person staff. After looking at dozens of spaces, it was the amenities at 540 West Madison that helped him decide, he said. Though at the time he was more impressed with the building’s gym than the bees, the occasional honey deliveries work wonders in making the staff feel welcome, he said.

Whitney, a veteran beekeeper and owner of City Bee Savers, also rears queen bees and mentors budding beekeepers.

“I was more interested in, How will bees do 30 stories up in the air, right downtown in the concrete jungle?” he said. “Can they really thrive and survive? The answer is yes.”

But there are precautions Whitney must take to make sure the hives stay healthy. With the thousands of bees he had driven from a farm near Savannah, Ga., just days before, Whitney brought straps and bricks to put on top of the new hives to help secure them, protecting them from the strong winds that can blow above the city.

He’ll come back throughout the summer and maintain the hives, watching for signs of strain from a mite inflicting damage on beehives across the country. The mites don’t kill the bees directly, but they latch on to them, wearing them down and causing stress that becomes deadly.

Come winter, the bees do their best to keep the queen warm, with little activity outside the hive. Though a bee lives only four to six weeks in the summer, a healthy hive will survive the cold.

Nestled in a mostly shaded area of the roof, the hives face north. Visible from their new home is the building that houses Google’s Midwest headquarters, 1KFulton, where more bees that Whitney maintains reside.

The hives stayed when Glendale, Calif.-based American Realty Advisors bought the newly developed building last summer from Chicago developer Sterling Bay, said Rachael Bruketta, assistant property manager at 1KFulton. The company set aside about $3,000 this year to spend on the bees.

“(It’s) cool to say they do this. This is an amenity at the building,” Bruketta said. “Tenants like that we care, that we’re helping bee populations.”

The building’s two hives are on the seventh-floor roof deck. While tenants also have access to the deck, the bees aren’t aggressive and generally keep to themselves.

Hopefully, the green space will encourage the bees to stay closer, Bruketta said.

If not, they’ll seek out the city’s flowers, darting to the blooms along Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park’s trees, or weeds springing from sidewalk cracks and vacant lots. The bees have a foraging range of about 11/2 miles, Whitney said, though the distance they travel depends on the availability of food.

Hotels were early adopters in Chicago’s rooftop beehive business. Tended by hotel chefs and contracted beekeepers, the hives produce honey served to guests in their morning granola or tea.

At the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop, an old-fashioned walk-in cooler is full of tiny jars of honey. The golden hues of the sugary substance change each harvest, depending on what flowers the bees pollinate, said executive chef Stephen Henry. It’s usually a beautiful gold, he said, though last year it was darker, more like the color of iced tea.

The Palmer House has been keeping bees for about five years on its 25th-floor rooftop garden, which it populates with bee-friendly flowers such as marigolds. Henry incorporates it into recipes, replacing the apricot glaze on the top of the hotel’s famous brownie with honey.

The bees at Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile produce so much honey that the hotel collaborates with a brewery to make a honey wheat ale out of it.

Several blocks south on Michigan Avenue, Chicago Honey Co-op maintains hives on top of the Chicago Cultural Center. The urban beekeeping cooperative also works with three other buildings.

Another company, The Best Bees Company, has installed hives atop other Chicago commercial buildings like AMA Plaza, 1 North Dearborn and 515 N. State St.

Unlike cities such as New York, Chicago does not regulate beekeeping, besides limiting a property to five hives. The state requires beekeepers to register with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Sometimes, new hives aren’t as accommodating to bees as the city is to keepers. On top of 540 West Madison on Tuesday, Whitney had to entice the bees to stay in the hive and claim it as their own.

He gave them a start with used honeycomb, pampering them with pollen and a few drops of sugar water while he watched them zip back and forth around the hive. Honeybees are rarely vicious, especially without an established hive to defend. They were memorizing their new home, Whitney said.

“They’re memorizing that pole; they’re memorizing that building,” he said, pointing to the top of a nearby high-rise. “They’re memorizing their spot here. They wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t think this was going to be their hive.”

Horse Thief ?

 

He Was Once Labeled a Horse Thief; Now He Wants to Save Them

A South Carolina man who was mistakenly arrested for stealing horses has leased 4,000 acres of Kentucky land in the hopes of turning it into a horse sanctuary.

| May 15, 2017,  Associated Press

He Was Once Labeled a Horse Thief; Now He Wants to Save Them

The Associated Press

In this Monday, Jan. 23, 2017 photo, cockleburs fill the mane of a wild or abandoned horse left on 4,000 acres of land in Jackson, Ky. Curtis Bostic, an attorney from South Carolina, has leased the land and is attempting to turn it into a horse sanctuary. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

By ADAM BEAM, Associated Press

JACKSON, Ky. (AP) — Curtis Bostic is an attorney, a politician and — for a few weeks in 2016 — an accused horse thief.

On a cold December day in the rugged hilltops of Breathitt County, Bostic was trying to rescue some horses he said had been abandoned and were malnourished. But he was arrested by a sheriff’s deputy, who said the horses belonged to two men who follow the local custom of setting them free in the winter to wander the wilderness of the county’s abandoned coal fields.

The charges were later dismissed after the sheriff’s department said it didn’t have probable cause to make the arrest. But during the night Bostic spent in jail, he came up with an idea: A few weeks later, he leased the land where he had been arrested. He sent a letter to the two men who had pressed charges against him. Now, they were the trespassers, and Bostic ordered them to come get their horses before he put them up for adoption.

“I can’t change the full county. But I can say you are not going to come to my property and drop your horse off in the cold winter,” Bostic said.

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Bostic wants to turn 4,000 acres of former coal mines into a horse sanctuary. It’s the latest idea on how to tackle the growing horse population in the mountains of Kentucky, a state known more for pampered thoroughbreds on pristine farms than bony horses roaming free.

Bostic’s descriptions of thousands of horses suffering at the hands of cruel owners have offended the locals who say he doesn’t understand their culture.

Clifton Hudson, 30, owns five horses that he sets free to wander land he doesn’t own near his home in Breathitt County. He said he provides 600 pounds of salt each month for the horses. He stopped hauling hay bales to the land because the horses were not eating them, a sign he says means they have plenty of grass to graze. The locals often bring their children to the mountains on the weekends to pet and feed the horses.

“It’s just really it’s more of a pastime than anything else with the people of the county,” Hudson said. “So far the only person really had an issue with it has been Mr. Bostic.”

Wild horses have been a familiar sight in the Kentucky mountains for decades. But following the Great Recession and the thousands of jobs lost because of the disappearing coal industry, more horses have been set loose.

Just how many and whether they have enough food is up for debate.

Dumas Rescue, a local animal rescue organization, told a legislative committee last fall that Floyd County alone had 1,000 horses. Owner Tonya Conn said they took in 22 horses last year but had to turn away requests for 100 others.

“Some of them have never been touched by human hands,” she said.

Debby Spencer, a board member for the Appalachian Horse Center, said Floyd County has just 44 free-roaming horses, based on a census she conducted in 2014 across nine eastern Kentucky counties. She found 440 horses in eight of them, a number she said has since grown to 584.

“There is more than enough food up there,” Spencer said.

Bostic lives in South Carolina, where he’s a former member of the Charleston County Council and once ran for Congress, losing to former Gov. Mark Sanford in a 2013 primary. He’s the general counsel for Kinzer Drilling Co., which owns the land Bostic has leased. He and his wife run an orphanage in Burma and own a private retreat in Charleston that has horses.

“We kind of enjoy being saviors of the world,” he said.

But some don’t see it that way. Hudson said a lot of owners will breed their horses in the wild, collecting and selling the offspring for side income. Bostic’s lease threatens to disrupt that practice.

Breeding of free-roaming horses is tricky. Male horses, once banned from free-ranging based on an unwritten rule among local owners, are running free and mating with female horses without owners’ knowledge. In September, Johnson County sheriff’s deputies discovered 20 to 30 horses at a former coal mine. Three of the horses, all males, had been shot in the head.

“It looked like they were trying to thin the herd by killing the males,” Deputy Terry Tussey said. “It’s still an open case. We never found out anything.”

Animal aid groups have hosted free gelding clinics in eastern Kentucky, but they depend on owners bringing their horses — and many lack resources to do so.

Local government leaders see the herds of wild horses galloping through the mountains and dream of tourists flocking to watch them. Such efforts have worked elsewhere, including ponies on Assateague Island in Virginia and mustangs at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota. But in Kentucky, a group trying to build the Appalachian Horse Center in Breathitt County has struggled to raise money.

The group has land not far from where Bostic was arrested. It plans to build a visitor center, offer guided tours and treat people with equine-assisted therapy. Local leaders hoped the group would partner with Bostic, but he isn’t interested in tourism.

“I don’t know how that would ever work,” he said. “What I want to do is help the animals that are here.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tags: Kentucky, South Carolina


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