Sweet Beginnings, a honey bee farm in Chicago, has taken what could be considered an undesirable situation by many and turned it into something, well, sweet. This urban apiary, which produces a line of all-natural, raw honey products, has turned an undevelopable plot of land near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport into a thriving business by employing a number of former convicts, a segment of the population that often faces significant barriers to employment.
Sweet Beginnings team members pose with some of the products the apiary produces. Photo Courtesy Sweet Beginnings.
Because the land is right outside the airport’s runway protection zone, the Federal Aviation Administration won’t allow it to be developed for safety reasons. But undeveloped is just how the bees like it—rich with native vegetation, prairie-type plants and other pollen sources.
As a subsidiary of the North Lawndale Employment Network, a group that aims to improve the earnings potential and quality of life for community members, Sweet Beginnings offers full-time transitional jobs to former convicts and others who face challenges in finding employment. At the apiary, workers care for the bees, harvest the honey, make the body care products, package and ship the products, track inventory, fill product orders and sell the products at stores and special events. Establishing a work history and learning marketable skills helps Sweet Beginnings’ workers to find new jobs in a variety of industries, advancing their careers and transitioning them back into society. For many of these workers, their job at the apiary offers a chance at a better life, and one that many take. The recurring crime rate, or recidivism rate, for Sweet Beginnings employees is just 4 percent, much lower than the national average of 65 percent.
The honey produced at Sweet Beginnings is turned into a variety of products for the apiary’s skincare line, beeline, which includes lip balm, shower gel, lotion, exfoliating scrubs, hand and foot balms, body cream and more. Sweet Beginnings also sells 2-, 6- and 12-ounce jars of its raw urban honey.