Interview: Chicago Honey Co-op

bees at hive entrance closeup

Spring 2012, and along with volunteers and other co-op members, Michael Thompson is one busy guy.  They’re not only working on relocating the 50 Chicago Honey Co-op hives from one location to three separate new ones this spring, but also maintaining business as usual for the Chicago Honey  Co-op.

Business as usual over the last year consisted of: in addition to the 50 hives at the North Lawndale apiary, they tended 8 hives on City of Chicago Buildings and one at the Lurie Garden, Millennium Park;  continued the preSERVE* partnership with Slow Food Chicago, Neighborspace and the North Lawndale Greening Committee, growing Sweet Potatoes, Black-eyed and Crowder Peas on a former vacant lot; continued hosting a community farm at the apiary in partnership with the North Lawndale Greening Committee & others; hosted 2 public events at the apiary (Sweet Summer Solstice and TomatoFest);  sold honey and products at 2 Farmer markets (Green City Market and Logan Square Farmers Market);  and continued work raising Illinois Honeybee queens.


And then there’s his other hat as an educator: over the last year he provided instructional classes on beekeeping at Jane Addams Hull House Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry Smart Home Exhibit; gave beekeeping presentations at the Power House High School, Nature Museum, College of Dupage, University of Chicago Hillel and others; conducted tours of the apiary for school groups and the general public; and provided employment in beekeeping skills for neighbors and volunteers.

He took the time recently to write about the Chicago Honey Co-op, its goals, and his own inspirations and reflections as a Chicago beekeeper.   

Photo of Michael Thompson. Credit: Rachel Hewitt.

Michael Thompson: After reading about honeybees in an encyclopedia when I was a child, my parents bought a beehive for my 12th birthday. I had no experience in beekeeping but figured I could do  it since it is an ancient craft and is practiced in nearly all cultures of the world.

Beekeepers Tim Brown, Stephanie Arnett & I founded Chicago Honey Co-op in 2003. We all understood the unique quality of Chicago honey since we had experienced this in our respective back yards. Our shared goals included an educational component to the enterprise, which involved working with former prisoners on the West Side of Chicago.

We were lucky that a special partnership developed over the last 8 years on the West Side of Chicago that made it possible to realize directions, perhaps unimagined by any one of us.

The four organizations are:

The North Lawndale Greening Committee through our neighbor Velma Johnson, a garden club that maintains 14 community gardens in the area.

Slow Food Chicago, a local food system advocate, has supported us for six years in various ways.

Neighbors Space, a land trust and community gardening advocate.

Chicago Honey Co-op, a group of beekeepers and devoted friends who care about pollinators and love honey.

These groups continue to work together on food production and smart community development. We are indebted to those who have gone before us and we try to walk gingerly in their footsteps.

Some of my inspirations include;

  • Eva Crane, British Physicist and beekeeping historian, Archeology of Beekeeping. 1986 Gerald Duckworth Co. Publisher.
  • Rachel Carson, Writer and early environmentalist, Silent Spring. 1962, Houghton Mifflin Publisher 
  • Organic Gardening Magazine and other Rodale Press publications.
  • Jane Jacobs, Author of Death & Life of Great American Cities, an important book on urban planning, 1961 Random House Publisher.
  • Alfred Caldwell, Visionary Landscape Architect in Chicago and elsewhere.
  • Luther Burbank, Plant breeder & creator of over 800 species of mostly food.
  • Vandana Shiva, Physicist, Philosopher and living environmental activist.
  • Carlo Petrini, Author, Philosopher & living founder of Slow Food International
  • Dr. Michael Dirr, Living author of Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, 1975, Revised 1990, Stipes Publishing Co., Champaign, Illinois.



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