For one Chicagoan, an ideal community garden means so much more than patches of fruits, vegetables and plants. And Jana Kinsman has set about broadening that scope by taking urban agriculture in the Windy City to what she sees as the next logical level: urban beekeeping.
Kinsman has launched Bike-a-Bee, a project aimed at "connecting Chicago greenspaces, community gardens and urban farms with beehives that need a nice sunny spot to live," according to its Facebook description. Kinsman, an avid cyclist, intends to maintain the project by riding her bike, equipped with a small trailer, to visit and care for the project's beehives, which she hopes will be located throughout the city.
In order to offset the project's costs, including the purchase of hives, bees and honey-processing equipment, Kinsman has created a Kickstarter campaign. Rewards for contributors include raw honey from the hives, a silk-screened poster from the project and more. Continuing our "Can They Kick It?" series, profiling aspiring local crowdfunded projects, HuffPost Chicago spoke with Kinsman to learn more about what inspired her ambitious plan.
HP: How is the Kickstarter going so far? Are you more anxious about the fundraising or what sounds like quite a bit of work you'll have to actually launch this project?
JK: The campaign is the scariest part right now because, if it doesn't succeed, then I won't get any money to fund the hives and bees and any of the equipment I'll need to install the hives into community gardens and green spaces. Before I launched the Kickstarter, I talked to lots of those spaces and asked if I brought them hives, whether they would be down to have them. Lots of them were excited about it and thought it was a great idea, so I'm feeling great about that part. Actually installing them seems daunting, but I'm excited about it at the same time. This is something I've never done and I really love the idea of having a new experience I can tie in with the community that's supported Bike-a-Bee so far. It's like a road trip to somewhere you've never gone before, a nice adventure.
(Scroll down to watch Bike-a-Bee's Kickstarter campaign video.)
I definitely get the impression from reading about this project that the fact that it's so community-based was really important to you. Why is it that you wanted to involve community spaces rather than more private spaces?
I feel like community gardens exist so that the vegetables and plants and the insects and animals around them can be in a public space so that neighborhood kids and anyone living there can come visit and see the process of how their food could be grown. I felt we shouldn't ignore the pollinator or bee aspect of it, because people might be curious about how honey's made. It serves as an educational tool to tie in curiosity about honey and honeybees with learning more about urban agriculture.
You wrote on the Kickstarter campaign page that you thought up the idea after coming across a similar project in Eugene, Ore. But prior to that, to what do you attribute your interest in beekeeping?
I really look back to being a little kid and being really fascinated by insects. Every summer, I would raise monarch butterflies and I was fascinated with caterpillars and honeybees to a degree. In college, the economic collapse happened and I was getting more into organic foods and sustainable agriculture, and I was understanding that honeybees were hurting because of, most likely, unhealthy agricultural practices. The honeybee became this mascot of the system failing.
I got more into it because the Chicago Honey Co-op was holding classes on beekeeping and I thought that would be really fun and see if this is something I could do. I enjoyed it, but I didn't know where I'd be living this past summer and didn't have the space to set up and maintain a hive. I went to Eugene to get some hands-on beekeeping skills, which worked really great. I came back and spoke with the co-op and started volunteering at farmers' markets with them. They became great friends and a great resource. Their kindness put me over the edge in terms of getting Bike-a-Bee launched.
One thing that makes Bike-a-Bee different from projects like Blessed Bee Apiary in Eugene is the biking half of it. What did Philip, the man who runs the Eugene project, say when you told him about Bike-a-Bee?
Philip was the first person I talked to about it and he said he thought it was a good idea. It was an idea I was playing around with in Eugene, and when I got back to Chicago and started talking to people about it, everybody had a really nice thing to say about it and was really encouraging, feeling this is really timely and important. I think the only neutral feedback I received was whether it was dangerous, the kind of fear-based question people ask. But, in general, when I told people I was doing something like this on my bike, they said it would be a lot of work carrying all the stuff around. But I'm a big cyclist, so I'm just taking it all in stride.
Tell me more about your cycling, which is interesting that you bring up given that winter has finally hit here in Chicago. Are you a year-round cyclist in the city? Any advice for novice cyclists considering trying out some winter biking?
When I first started cycling in the city, it was a really big deal to do a trip like six miles, but I've gotten to a point where I do everything on my bike. My biggest concerns in winter are the warmth of my toes and hands. Depending on how long your trip is, you need to make sure you regulate your temperature. Once you're sweating, you don't want to get so hot that you're producing a lot of sweat that can stay in your clothes. Lots of layers are good and you want to make sure you have a chain lubricated with winter-appropriate lube, which you can get at a bike shop. I want to encourage people that it's possible to ride in winter. It's just as fun as summer and makes you feel pretty bad-ass.
I understand that there have been some positive developments in urban agriculture recently in Chicago. How does Bike-a-Bee fit into that trend?
Chicago currently has no laws pertaining to beekeeping, like how many you can have or where you can have them, so the city hasn't been much of a deterrent at all. The biggest issue has been securing space, which has been pretty easy so far. I think that beehives, in general, are something that can be on a farm, like kale, carrots or apples or whatever. I feel the city and community is ready for even more growth in urban agriculture and that this is the next step toward doing that. Another step would be having chickens or goats in those gardens, because now they are mostly just plants. I think everybody's ready for something like this to happen.
Anything else you want people to know about Bike-a-Bee?
I'm just a person like anyone else trying to do this little project. It's been great to have a wonderful response from the community around me, not necessarily other beekeepers or even necessarily foodies. That community aspect has been really great and every little bit of support helps. As far as beekeeping goes, I want people to be open to it and to bees themselves. They're an important part of our agricultural system and I'm hoping people will see this and maybe explore the idea of how to keep bees healthy to avoid suffering from colony collapse disorder. And in terms of the biking aspect, I want to be able to show people you can do anything on your bike.
As of Jan. 13, with 24 days to go, the Bike-a-Bee Kickstarter campaign has raised more than $3,100 of its $7,000 fundraising goal. Click here to learn more and help the "buzz-worthy" project become a reality.
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