Located in the heart of Philadelphia at 19th and Market, the Independence Blue Cross building is an unconventional home for 30,000 honeybees. In October 2020, the Montreal-based rooftop beekeeping company Alvéole installed two wooden beehives as a collaborative effort with the health insurance company to support local honeybee populations and provide learning experiences for employees.
Bees and other pollinators are threatened by a range of environmental pressures. Factors such as rapidly developing land, climate change, and parasites like the varroa destructor, all contribute to declining populations.
Honeybee endangerment is particularly worrisome due to the species’ role in crop pollination. According to the United States Food & Drug Administration, honeybees account for $15 billion in added crop value.
In the Philadelphia region, native species such as the mason bee and blue orchard bee are more productive in pollinating plants and food crops, but honeybees have not been forgotten in conservation efforts throughout the city. Urban beekeeping is becoming more and more popular in our city’s green spaces, expanding to residents’ backyards and unsuspecting buildings such as the IBX.
Alvéole reached out to IBX last summer to scout interest in hosting honeybees. Juan Lopez, the Senior Vice President for Finance Shared Services at IBX, quickly hopped on board. “It felt like a great opportunity to support an initiative that would allow us to positively impact the environment, repurpose unused space, and learn about the importance of bees within our ecosystem,” Lopez said.
Lopez explained that collaboration was a big learning experience. Part of Alvéole’s program includes workshops where they teach employees about pollination, hive inspection and honey extraction. In addition to the workshops, Alvéole will harvest and jar the honey at the end of the season for the employees as a sweet memento of their stewardship.
Until then, the staff at IBX can sit back and watch as the bees go to work in the city and the hives. But the bees are not the only ones keeping busy in this process. Wynn Geary, the Alvéole staff member responsible for their hive installations and maintenance, went to great heights to get the project in flight.
A Philly native, Geary has been active in the beekeeping community since the age of 15. In high school, he managed social media for the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild and then started a beekeeping club at his alma mater, The Rhode Island School of Design. When Alvéole branched out to Philadelphia, he eagerly secured a position as the operations manager. Since last March, Geary has been working hard alongside other operations managers throughout the country, sticking to Alvéole’s mission in reestablishing connections between city residents and nature through beekeeping.
The IBX site poses some unique challenges for Geary. Located on the 8th floor balcony, he had to take extra safety precautions while installing the hive, as well as any maintenance visits. “I’m all about making it work to make sure the bees are in the best place possible,” Geary said.
He described the arduous process of installing and maintaining the hives. After retrieving the honeybees from apiaries in the suburbs the night before, the hives are sealed off and driven to clients. “IBX is the only hive so far where I have to wear a safety harness while working the hives,” Geary said. In order to install the hives, he put them on a cart with the other beekeeping equipment, climbed out the window on a ladder, and placed them on the metal stands. After installation, the styrofoam seal is removed from the hives, and the bees are free to explore their new location with what Geary refers to as orientation flights. “It’s really fun to watch the bees fly off the side of the skyscraper to Rittenhouse and Logan squares to collect pollen,” he added.
At the end of the season, Geary will return to extract the honey for IBX. The true value of urban beekeeping lies in the educational component. He sees urban beekeeping as a good first step towards greening Philadelphia. Geary said,”Urban beekeeping is something people can invest in and do today that can help them understand why cities ought to be greener. It all links together and ultimately benefits us as well as the environment.”
Watch a video on urban beekeeping produced by Nate Stanley & reported by Julia Albertson here.