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. 

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