Flowers and veggies sprout from raised beds in a once empty lot next to the Cobalt on Main Street. Non-profit group Hives for Humanity hopes the community garden will buzz with activity when they host a weekly beekeeping mentorship program every Monday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. through November.
Sarah Common, a social worker in the Downtown Eastside since 2006, first installed a beehive in the garden next to the supervised drug injection site on East Hastings Street in 2011. She quickly saw sweet results.
“The garden space that we have there is really a beautiful respite where people can come in from the chaos of the street and sit under a tree, enjoy the flowers, get their hands in the soil, and bringing bees in there just upped that,” Common said. “We have beekeepers who are Downtown Eastside residents living with poverty, some with addiction, some with mental illness, some homeless, street-entrenched, crime-entrenched, there’s a really wide spectrum, and everybody rises to the opportunity to bee keep and to garden and to be respectful of the bees.”
Common and her master beekeeper mother, Julia, founded Hives for Humanity in 2012. They steward 75 hives throughout Vancouver, including two colonies at Milross Gardens next to the Cobalt.
“Bees, not just honey bees, but bumblebees, mason bees, other tiny little insects, butterflies, hummingbirds, they pollinate close to two-thirds of our food,” Common said. “And urban landscapes have traditionally erased the foraging and the habitat of those pollinating insects.”
More than 100 gardens grow beyond the chain-link fence that bounds Milross Gardens. Families pay $20 a year to lease a raised vegetable bed. Hives for Humanity planted the perimeters with pollinizers and created living walls. The non-profit will install mason bee houses next spring and leave ground unturned for bumblebees.
“A lot of bees don’t live in cavities,” Common said. “They live in the ground.”
Wannabe beekeepers can observe or get hands-on.
“They can feel what it’s like to hold a frame with 2,000 bees on it and taste honey straight out of the hive, warm from comb,” Common said.
Common first heard from
Amacon, the development company that owns the site, after a representative of the company tasted honey from Hives for Humanity and wanted to install a hive on their office’s roof.
But Hives for Humanity spied a broader opportunity for hives in Milross Gardens.
“Not only was it a great idea but we were really impressed with the strength of what they were doing, just how amazing they are at connecting communities and people within the community, and so we were really inspired by their passion,” said Melissa Howey, development and marketing manager for Amacon.
Hives for Humanity aims to create pollinating corridors east to Clark Drive, west down East Hastings to Main Street and then along Cambie Street to CRAB Park.
More bees shouldn’t scare anyone, says Common.
“People hear bee and they think the thing that has stung them and been horrible to them in the past is a bee and often it was a hornet,” Common, who adds that there are people who work with Hives for Humanity and are allergic to beestings.
The therapeutic value of beekeeping gives Common the greatest buzz.
“You have to be in moment and you have to be thinking about what you’re doing, watching where you’re putting your hands, breathing slowly,” she said. “Not everyone can meditate but maybe some people who can’t meditate can bee keep.”