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A Bee’s Eye View of Chicago

Chicago’s West Town has been experiencing a boom. Not only are humans moving in, but bees are as well. This spring, for example, saw the installation of five active beehives on the roof of the building that the company The Roof Crop calls home. The solid 1928 two-story, industrial structure, originally meant to house taxicabs, is one of the first in the city to be topped by an urban farm. The Roof Crop crew moved in in 2015, after tearing out the original roof and installing a new one that would support a special soil mix and the vegetables and fruits to be planted there. Today, unsuspecting pedestrians below have no idea that there's a whole ecosystem covering this old brick building.

Historecycle visited The Roof Crop’s three-tiered rooftop farm in May soon after the hives were up and running. Unfortunately, the Farm Manager was not on site because he had just been stung by a bee that morning! Visitors like us must steer clear of the buzzing hives, but we wandered hungrily through new shoots of rhubarb, peppers, raspberries, and other crops. Flowers like pansies and alium are grown there too--some edible—as well as medicinal plants like yarrow and confrey. It was a clear day and the Chicago skyline in the distance provided the perfect contrast to the new green cover.

Now, during the growing season, the bees are busy pollinating to their hearts' content. Other insects like butterflies, spiders, and praying mantises have been spotted as well. And what happens when it’s time to reap this cornucopia of goodies grown on the roof? The honey from the hives, vegetables, and fruits are sold to nearby restaurants. Flower shops buy cut flowers. The Roof Crop also turns the harvested plants into herbal teas, spices, and beauty products like soaps and oils. These are concocted in a lab on the first floor of the building.

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