Bees making honey for money at O'Hare Airport

Bees making honey for money at O'Hare Airport

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

With planes screaming overhead and busy I-294 just steps away, O’Hare is not the sort of place you'd expect to find one of nature's miracles.

However, in a weedy and wooded part of the airport, hundreds of thousands of honeybees and a handful of ex-cons are working together to turn honey into money.

"We were looking for a creative way to create jobs for men and women who are returning from incarceration," said Brenda Palms Barber, head of the North Lawndale Employment Network, which several years ago started a company called "Sweet Beginnings."

The former inmates are trained in beekeeping at O’Hare and a number of other locations in the city, producing honey that's sold throughout the Chicago area.

"What they get is work experience. They become acclimated to the culture of work. They learn how to work as a team, how to take direction, and how to really produce a quality product," Barber said.

That product starts in more than 75 hives on the O’Hare property, at the east edge of the airport. The bees produce about 100 pounds of honey each year, thanks to the dense concentration of thistle and clover on the property.

Veteran beekeeper John Hansen, who supervises the program, said that 2014 is looking like a very sweet year.

"This is a very good honey year, because we got enough rain, regular rain and sunshine-y days, and it keeps flowers blooming…keeps the bees happy," Hansen said.

And happy bees make for happy customers.

Sweet Beginnings’ honey and skin products are being sold at O’Hare and Aviation commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said they're popular with tourists.

"Being able to harvest it at the airport, produce it locally in the city of Chicago, and then sell it at Chicago airports, really closes the circle and allows someone to buy something unique to Chicago," said Andolino.

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