For Labor Day, Dorothée and I took a little field trip to the Chicago Honey Co-op apiary in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood to snap some photos and chat with Co-op founder Michael Thompson. Six years ago, Thompson struck a deal with a real estate investor allowing him and others to keep bees on the cracked concrete of a deserted Sears Roebuck truck parking lot. Now, after scaling up a bit and ramping back down, the cooperative seems to have struck a good balance with about 60 hives buzzing on the east side of the lot and a lush vegetable garden growing to the west.
Thompson says the co-op has been successful enough that they're no longer able to take on new members. The co-op pulls in enough revenue from local sales of jars of honey, candles and soap to pay Thompson and one other worker part-time wages, but he emphasizes that it's not a huge money-maker.
In terms of amenities, the co-op is a pretty bare-bones operation. Aside from a small tool shed, it's just concrete, hives and the vegetable garden. For water, they attach a hose to the fire hydrant on Fillmore Street. Simplicity is part of the beauty of the Honey Co-op, where Thompson and his co-op members took a forsaken plot of land and created something beautiful and productive.