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Bee calm and grow community

A growing community might bring a little more calm to the Downtown Eastside.
Sarah Common of Hives for Humanity
Sarah Common of Hives for Humanity believes beekeeping and gardening offer stability for Downtown Eastside residents. Photo Dan Toulgoet

A growing community might bring a little more calm to the Downtown Eastside.

Or at least that’s what organizers hope as the Carnegie branch of the Vancouver Public Library launches a new hub to connect Downtown Eastside residents curious about beekeeping and gardening.

“Bees are lovely creatures, the way they vibrate, the way they smell, and how calm and quiet you are required to be around them,” said Sarah Common, the community liaison for Hives for Humanity. “I think we are all looking for that, looking for ways to breathe a little calmer. It’s a chaotic city we live in.”

The Downtown Eastside Seed and Bee Library, opening Aug. 6, was created in partnership with the city and community groups.

“It’s a really unique opportunity just to show that the library cares about sustainability and also wants to involve the community and their passions,” said branch head Natalie Porter.

The bee library features books on apiculture, or bees, and regular postings will notify happenings in the area’s beekeeping community. The seed library launching at the same time will make seeds available to visitors and includes seeds for fruits, vegetables and flowers. Through pollination, both collections work hand in hand.

Mason bees have found homes at the Hastings Urban Farm, Oppenheimer Park and Pigeon Park, in addition to rooftops and yards in the neighbourhood.

The non-profit Hives for Humanity encourages community connections through apiculture along the East Hastings corridor. Working with the library, Common helped set up the launch.

“One of our goals was to find a space in the Downtown Eastside as a hub for year round housekeeping activity, to check in, have some tea, to share support and opportunities at a set location,” said Common, who has worked in the area since 2006 as a social worker.

Porter hopes the project will bring new visitors.

“Over in Strathcona I see a lot of people evolving their gardens, which is super close by, and the folks around Chinatown as well who are really active gardeners,” said Porter. “I think it’s a good spectrum of people.”

Mark Winston, academic director of SFU’s Centre of Dialogue, will be doing a reading at the launch.

His book, Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive, is a reflection of three decades of studying bees. He believes hives and gardens are a good match for the community.

“As you know, many areas are quite challenged to get good healthy quality and inexpensive food and it’s amazing what gardens in the community can do,” said Winston. “It’s a resource to connect community members to each other and connect members to the natural world. All the problems in the Downtown Eastside can come back to health related issues.”

Common believes interacting with nature helps the area’s residents.

“I think stability is something that is really rare for folks living in the Downtown Eastside,” said Common. “There’s insufficient housing, people don’t have enough to live on and there’s a lot of trauma behind it all… The way the soil and living creatures and living plants can connect you back to nature and yourself… providing a space where they can cement, that is really valuable.”

Porter has visited the Hastings Urban Garden and is glad it also serves as a refuge.

“It looks like it’s just thriving,” she said. “It’s just a nice juxtaposition of the hard concrete and there’s this little oasis outside… Carnegie is a quiet place and the garden can also be that.”

Beekeeping’s popularity has increased in the face of declining bee populations, but Common believes Vancouver’s increasing number of hives is also due to the joy and therapy from working with bees.

The launch takes place Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. in Carnegie Community Centre’s theatre. A honey sampling will offer a sweet taste of the opportunities available to connect with nature.

Neil Benson, a community member who worked with Hives for Humanity and involved with the bee library launch passed away July 28. Benson was involved with Downtown Eastside gardens and he sheltered and fed many bees. 

Benson's memory will be honoured at the launch. He was schedule to speak at the event and a poem of his will be read.