Detroit’s Urban Beekeepers Are Transforming The City’s Vacant Lots

These urban beekeepers are rebuilding Detroit one hive at a time.

DETROIT NATIVES TIMOTHY Paule and Nicole Lindsey witnessed first-hand the negative effects the housing crisis had on their city. With roughly 90,000 vacant lots, neighbourhoods have been destabilised and communities abandoned with little action being taken, in their view, to fix the root of the problem.

When Paule became sick one recent winter and developed a really bad cough that neither medicine, home remedies or a trip to the doctor could cure, he visited a local store where the owner introduced him to the benefits of raw honey. He explained to Paule that his supply came from a beekeeper. That led to an aha moment for Nicole Lindsey. “When that worked, it clicked, like, okay let’s study more about this honey and its medicinal properties,” she says. The couple developed an idea to transform some of Detroit’s vacant lots into urban bee farms.

Paule and Lindsey started Detroit Hives, a non-profit organisation, in 2017 as a way to rebuild some of Detroit’s inner-city communities and spread bee awareness. They have successfully converted seven vacant lots into apiaries and currently maintain 34 beehives with plans to add ten more this year. And since most of the produce found in supermarkets—such as fruits, nuts and vegetables—are pollinated by bees, Tim and Nicole are also growing vast amounts of vegetables on their urban farms for their bees to cross pollinate—providing a solution to the food deserts that exist some cities.

“I didn’t know anything about bees, neither did she, so like, there was no ego involved, We both brought our mutual passion and knowledge together,” Paule says “It’s something we can do together. We built this together, we both have invested into this, we both have a lot of sweat equity put into this.”

As a power couple whose passion for bee keeping is making an impact on the city of Detroit, their reach extends beyond the parameters of their apiaries. “We partner with local schools, community organisations, as well as local businesses where they all can play a part in sustainability,” says Paule. “We host so many tours and field trips at our educational apiary. I think we hosted close to 300 tours.

[Children] get to put on a bee keeping suit and go hands-on into a hive. And this is right in their own community. They don’t have to travel two, three hours away.” (See what would happen if honeybees disappeared.)

The success of Detroit Hives caught the eye of documentary filmmaker Palmer Morse, who co-directed a film about the project with Rachel Weinberg. He says he was intrigued by the tangible change they were making in their community when he read about them in an online publication. When he saw them in another publication a week later, he decided to reach out.

“It’s not very often that you hear about someone, a couple, or anyone, who takes an idea that they have to make change in their community and actually takes it upon themselves to make it happen,” says Morse, co-founder of Spruce Tone Films.

“Spending time with Tim and Nicole just really kind of reminded me that there are still really good people who are making change and shedding positive light on something that’s seen often as negative,” Morse said.

Filming the documentary “Detroit Hives” hit close to home for Morse. “When I was in college my parents actually lost their home to foreclosure in Massachusetts and that was a really hard thing for my family to go through. Knowing that in Detroit there are so many homes that have also been victims of foreclosure, often for reasons beyond their control, just being in Detroit and seeing that really hit home for me.

“I kind of feel like I needed to make this film kind of for myself, and have a little bit of closure for what my family went through,” he said.

"Detroit Hives," a film by Palmer Morse and Rachel Weinberg.

“Detroit Hives” premiered at Freep Film Festival in April 2019. Morse and Weinberg hope to make an impact beyond the film festival circuit. After gaining an understanding of how essential honey bees are to our ecosystem, they would like to with the couple and partner with more non-profit and education-based organisations to bring the film to classrooms.

“So I think it’s really important to find all these incredible people around the country and all over the world and give them a voice and a platform,” Weinberg says.

Lindsey is thrilled about being able to ease fears about bees.

“[I want to encourage] young girls to not be afraid of bees,” she says. “We get a lot of girls who come to the bee farm who are terrified. And I let them know, hey I was once afraid of bees. It wasn’t until I started learning about them that the fear transferred into love.”

The couple has a goal to reach 200 beehives by 2020.

Paule and Lindsey want to make learning about bee conservation fun and engaging. From fraternity and sorority “bee houses” to plans to build a bee-themed art park, they are just getting started. They say they have become closer as a couple through it all.

“Being able to [see Nicole] reach her passion and she actually loves it, and it actually allowed her to get over some fears, [is] truly rewarding,” says Paule. “Whenever you start removing a lot of fears, it allows you to grow more as a person. [So this] allows us to grow individually, but also together.”

 

The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the world and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic's belief in the power of science, exploration, and storytelling to change the world. To submit a film for consideration, please email sfs@natgeo.com. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of National Geographic Partners.

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