Bees get a bad rap because of their stingers, but they are held in very high esteem in the ecological world. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), they and other insect pollinators play a “critically important” role in the environment because they help sustain biodiversity and provide “essential” pollination for a diverse range of crops and wild plants. Of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food, 71 are pollinated by bees.
Unfortunately, global bee populations are declining due to the effects of pesticides, viruses, pathogens, invasive species, climate change, and other threats. Fixing the problem means increasing the number of healthy and sustainable bee habitats.
Photo Courtesy Detroit Bees
One organization doing that is Detroit Hives, a nonprofit that transforms vacant urban lots into pollinator-friendly bee farms.
This effort not only has a positive impact on the environment by increasing the population of pollinators — it also turns once-dormant properties into thriving eco-hubs.
According to its website, the idea behind Detroit Hives took form in the winter of 2016, when co-founder Timothy Paule Jackson discovered that local raw honey could cure his nagging cold. After learning about its medicinal properties, Jackson and partner Nicole Lindsey became “fascinated” with bees.
The couple enrolled in local beekeeping classes over the next few months. Along the way, the Detroit natives recognized that the city’s abandoned lots could serve a “greater purpose” connected to their newfound expertise in beekeeping. Jackson and Lindsey bought their first lot in 2017 and established their first urban bee farm there. Detroit Hives was launched as a 501c(3) nonprofit that same year.
Photo Courtesy Detroit Hives
According to a 2019 Washington Post article, at the time, Detroit officials were searching for people and organizations to buy 90,000 vacant lots for low prices in “areas where the city could not afford to lure developers.”
The vacant lots weren’t only eyesores, but they also posed a danger to children and contributed to mental health issues for neighboring residents.
As the Washington Post reported, converting vacant lots in Philadelphia into green spaces decreased residents’ feelings of depression by roughly 42%, according to a 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania.
“These properties are left abandoned and serve as a dumping ground in most cases,” Jackson (sometimes referred to as Timothy Paule) told “Intelligent Living” in an interview. “The area can be a breeding ground for environmental hazards, which creates a stigma around the city.”
Detroit Hives continues to spread the message of bee farms and urban renewal on social media. In a June 2023 Facebook post, Jackson, a photographer by trade, wrote that his organization hosted a site visit for The Bee Cause Project to share how its model on revitalizing vacant lots for people and pollinators inspires others at the local and national level.
Photo Courtesy The Bee Cause
“We want to educate people about bees and spread the knowledge of medicinal properties of honey, and to preserve the bee population, all while removing blight,” he told “Intelligent Living.”
Detroit Hives got its start with a $1,600 grant from Detroit SOUP, the Washington Post reported. The grant was awarded after Jackson and Lindsey won a “Shark Tank”-like entrepreneur competition. In the years since, the organization has expanded to other lots and multiplied its number of hives, though its website doesn’t specify how many.
The benefits of Detroit Hives’ work are three-fold, the organization says on its website: its farms provide a safe haven for bee colonies to live, feed, and grow; it can educate the public on the importance of bees and pollination to the ecosystem; and it helps revitalize neighborhoods by making use of vacant lots.
Photo Courtesy Detroit Hives
“We want to educate people about bees and spread the knowledge of medicinal properties of honey, and to preserve the bee population, all while removing blight,” Jackson said to “Intelligent Living.”