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Beekeeper Expands Urban Farming Project After Tough First Year

By Janet Rausa Fuller | April 25, 2013 11:18am | Updated on April 25, 2013 12:47pm

LOGAN SQUARE — Last year was rough for Jana Kinsman's bees.

Kinsman, 27, set up 10 beehives in community gardens and other spaces across the city last summer, the first step in her fledgling urban farming project dubbed Bike a Bee.

She traveled to the hives by bicycle. Residents welcomed their new neighbors.

That was the easy part.

The drought messed with the bees to the point where there was no honey to harvest and, by winter's end, no bees to speak of in seven of the 10 hives.

Undeterred, Kinsman replaced the hives and has begun putting in more at six new locations.

On Friday, she will hold a fundraiser at the Logan Square office space where she works as an illustrator to help recoup the costs of the new hives and equipment and further her quest to establish Bike a Bee as a nonprofit.

This "overblown hobby," as Kinsman called it, began a few years ago on a lark, after she took a beekeeping class at the Chicago Honey Co-op. In fall 2011, after leaving her corporate graphic design job to scratch the itch to travel, she ended up on a farm in Eugene, Ore., helping a beekeeper who had hives at schools, gardens and elsewhere across the city.

Enamored with these "endlessly fascinating" insects, Kinsman decided to do something similar back in Chicago — but by bicycle, her primary mode of transportation.

Her goal is to "provide the community with a visual example of bees, because so many people grow up being afraid of them," said Kinsman. "If we put more in community gardens and other spaces, people will come to see how beautiful and important they are."

How important? "They pollinate over one-third of what we eat," she said.

In January 2012, Kinsman raised more than $8,500 through a Kickstarter campaign — exceeding her goal by nearly $1,700 — and by summer had hives in West Town, Humboldt Park and other neighborhoods.

Her out-of-pocket expenses so far this year total about $3,600.

Kinsman uses a Bullitt cargo bike and two other bikes to schlep around town from hive to hive. On a recent weekday, her route took her through Pilsen, Bridgeport and Back of the Yards. In addition to tending the hives, she works with schools, camps and groups like Truck Farm Chicago to teach bee education.

Benton House, a social services agency in Bridgeport, is home to one of the new hives. It sits on the roof of the garage. It took some persuading to get it there.

Last year, the agency declined Kinsman's offer. "We were worried about our neighbors. We had to talk to them," said Ambria Taylor, 25, a resident staffer.

That hive has sparked the inner beekeeper in Taylor and other volunteers.

"When she came to drop the bees off in the hive, three of us went on the roof with her. That was a really cool experience. We were surrounded by bees," said Taylor. "It changes your perception. I had a childhood fear of bees. Now I'm not afraid, and I actually want to learn how to beekeep."

This spring's damp, dull weather bodes well for the bees.

The rain "means a lot of growth, which means a lot of flowers producing nectar," Kinsman said.

Friday's fundraiser is free. Silent auction items include a Legacy Frameworks bicycle and a stay and drinks at Longman & Eagle. Sweetening the pot: a bake sale with honeyed treats.

The event is from 5 p.m. to midnight at 3624 W. Wrightwood Ave. Visit Bike a Bee's website or Facebook page for more details.