RALEIGH, NC – When people think of beekeeping, some may think that the best place for beehives is the countryside. However, as North Carolina cities like Raleigh and Charlotte grow, a Triangle-based startup is proving that honeybees can thrive in places some might not expect, like corporate campuses.
Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, founder and CEO of Bee Downtown, recently completed a “penthouse” of beehives.
“These are 301 Hillsborough hives. These are some of our newest in Raleigh. They have an amazing view of downtown,” Bonner said. “It’s fun on corporate campuses because when you’re in a building like 301 Hillsborough, you have employees on all floors who start to see smoke coming up and know the beekeeper is there, so they come to the windows. watch and see what happens.”
As a fourth-generation beekeeper, Bonner said he knows a smoker is an important safety tool.
“We want to light up the smoker really well, so we go ahead and let it get pretty hot. Come on. Here comes the fire,” Bonner said.
NC State grad started Bee Downtown in 2015.
“I get to experience my family’s agricultural history every day, and I’m reminded every day what it means to love the Earth,” Bonner said.
Bee Downtown builds and maintains beehives on corporate campuses.
“This opportunity is to create an impact in a very small area. It’s not a huge footprint at 301 Hillsborough, but it has a huge impact in the community, with the tenants, with the building itself,” Bonner said.
In addition to the hives, companies that partner with Bee Downtown get year-round programs for their employees, such as hive tours, honey tastings and beekeeping classes.
“Workers fall in love with bees like us. You watch people’s eyes light up on hive tours and you can see it potentially click for them for the first time, and we’re always able to help people have their best day at work, which is very rewarding for us as a company,” Bonner said. “If we honeybees If we can start a conversation with and education with honey bees, the impact will help all bees along the way.”
Bonner said 2022 is Bee Downtown’s most successful year yet. It now partners with 49 companies throughout the Triangle and Charlotte. It maintains about 500 hives in eight cities up and down the East Coast.
“When the hives come in here, or when the hives go into Microsoft, Cisco or Invesco, they start to have a positive impact on 18,000 acres of the surrounding community. A single honey bee – this and buzzing around me – can carry out 1,200 pollination events per day. They help keep trees and our environment healthy,” said Bonner.
At the core of Bonner’s business is a do-no-harm philosophy, a concept commonly embraced by businesses Bee Downtown partners with.
“Some people say, why are you putting honeybees on campuses? ‘Why do you bring them to the cities?’ For all of our corporate partners, as soon as these beehives arrive on campus, we start working with their landscaping teams. We start working with their staff and they say, how can I plant my yard to be more pollinator friendly? The company stops spraying so many chemicals,” Bonner said.
According to Bonner, these are just a few examples of changes made to improve the environment because of Bee Downtown’s hives.
“Everything a honey bee touches leaves better than it found. The flowers that he pollinates — people don’t even see that he’s pollinating those flowers — but when you go outside, you see life and you see color and you see healthy trees and the ripple effect, it’s important and it works,” Bonner said. “No one is too small to make a big difference, and if they think so, they’ve never met a honey bee.
“Our big problem in cities is that there are food wastes for people in cities and other areas. There are also food deserts for bees because we’re clearing and building all this infrastructure and then not creating a food supply for pollinators,” Bonner continued.
Bee Downtown collects the honey from each partner into jars and returns it to the company and its employees. Bee Downtown started in the Triangle, but has a large presence in Atlanta and is now focusing on expanding to the Tampa and Orlando areas.