New ordinance may not allow Sugar Beet beekeeping

Question of whether the organization is a 'business' or an 'institution'

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By Nona Tepper

On June 13, two days after Sugar Beet installed beehives on the roof of their Schoolhouse, 349 Ashland Ave., the River Forest Village Board questioned the legality of keeping bees in the village.

"Poof, all of a sudden, it was illegal out of absolutely nowhere," said Lissa Dysart, marketing director.

Sugar Beet had ambitious plans for the hives. The business and its nonprofit Schoolhouse planned to use them as a tool to educate kids on pollinators, their health, and how they're tied to the environment. Sugar Beet also planned to harvest the hives for honey tasting, use the honey in its prepared food items and donate all the proceeds to an organization that supports pollinator health.

"It pulled the rug out from under us," Dysart said. Sugar Beet kept silent about the bees through the summer. "We just didn't talk about it," she said.

After the summer, the two hives declined, one bee population leaving the hive, the other not sustaining enough bees to last the winter. Dysart said she's unsure if they will try keep hives again next year — it all depends on the village.

Village trustees passed a beekeeping ordinance Nov. 27, which now requires residential and institutional beekeepers to apply for permits and, in most cases, limits their density to two hives. Because Sugar Beet Co-op is a business, Dysart said she's not sure if there's room for them in the legislation.

"I understand it's a delicate balance, taking care of the public and what they want, but in a lot of ways I think it gets shortsighted," Dysart said. 

Village Administrator Eric Palm said he's not sure where Sugar Beet falls under the new beekeeping ordinance. River Forest officials are still working at pulling all the necessary materials for permitting the practice together — developing forms, fact sheets, educational materials and more. Palm said he hoped to finish implementation by the first quarter of 2018.

After that, "I'll have to ask staff and the sustainability commission to look at what we've adopted and if we have to make changes, we'll make changes," he said, although he could not guarantee that Sugar Beet would be included in the legislation.

 "It's confusing," Dysart said, "but you have all these bees in the mix. You actually have living organisms you're taking care of and you're responsible for. It's kind of a one-two punch, like, Oh God, I'm potentially doing something illegal and, on top of it, there's this organism, kind of the whole hive, that actually depends on you."

If the village rules that the Sugar Beet business applying for a permit is illegal, Dysart said, they will probably ask the Schoolhouse, their nonprofit sister organization, to apply to keep the bees on their roof in River Forest, so long as Sugar Beet officials finance the hives and commit to their upkeep. She believes the Schoolhouse would fall under the "institution" designation of the new ordinance.

Sugar Beet can also apply for a variance if the ordinance doesn't work for them. 

Reader Comments

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Byron Lanning from Oak Park  

Posted: December 18th, 2017 9:09 AM

Local governments or counties should regulate honey bee hives. If beekeeping becomes prevalent, the hives could exceed the available nectar, pollen and carrying capacity of the area. Unless communities increased flowering plants that bloom throughout the season, hives would need food supplements like syrup and sugar water to survive. You don't need honey bees to teach kids about pollination. They are not the only pollinators. Native bees, moths, flies, butterflies, and birds have pollinated plants here for thousands of years long before European colonists brought honey bees with them, and, generally, native bees are more efficient at pollination than European bees. The US agriculture industry prefers the European bee because its hives can be transported to farms, orchards, and almond tree groves in California. To teach kids about pollination, how about building a native mason bee hotel. Unlike European bees, native mason bees don't sting. They don't require mitacides, supplements and ongoing human benefactors. European bees have suffered in population, especially the feral colonies, but they'll be fine. As a species, they've been introduced all over the world. In Asia, the European bee is considered a pest and a threat to the native Asian honey bee. In the US, they have a 15 billion dollar agriculture industry to support them. Oak Park has two government subsidised hives on the roof of its public works garage and a contractor to foster them. Native bees and pollinators have become the species one should worry about. They've suffered immense losses. Some are threatened and nearly extinct, for example, the rusty patched bumblebee and the monarch butterfly.

Richard Fischer from OP  

Posted: December 14th, 2017 5:38 PM

Seems like they should be grandfathered in since they had it installed before RF decided to look into legalities. Also in this day and age of disappearing bees you would think it would be beneficial to any community to allow the hives.

Kirin Nielsen  

Posted: December 14th, 2017 5:23 PM

Given the environmental disasters and effect of widespread pesticide use and the other known or still-to-be-discovered reasons for the dramatic drop in the bee population (including parasites), I believe every effort must be made to sustain bees. If that means allowing Sugar Beet and other entities to keep bees responsibly, then bee keeping should be supported legally and vigorously, here and around the world. Of course the beekeepers need to employ best practices for the safety of the bees and the humans and other animals, and there are certainly ample resources for education. In my view, there should be no economic penalties or fees for the important work that Sugar Beet and others like them are doing in this endeavor.

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