Two years ago, we approached Sea-Tac airport — the nation’s 15th busiest airport — about putting some beehives on their property. And doing an art exhibit inside the terminal. And turning some of the scrub land currently ridden with invasive weeds into wildflowers. And installing nesting habitat for native pollinators.
Why? If we raise local, disease-resistant and pesticide-free bees and distribute them to the local beekeepers, that will reduce our regional dependence on genetically-compromised bees from elsewhere. If we use airport property, we have much better control over the bees’ breeding ground, and can raise better bees.
If we inspire and educate people about pollinators and the need for locally-grown food, that will help the local food system grow. If we rehabilitate land right here in the city, that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and support our local economies. If we build habitat to support native pollinators, that will help them thrive and create ecological diversity.
The airport said: “yes!”
It took all of the two years to get to this point, and a staggering amount of work by us, our colleagues at The Common Acre (the non-profit that eventually took over sponsorship of the program) and the Port of Seattle (which runs Sea-Tac). We called the project “Flight Path: The Art+Science of Bees.” And this is just the bee-ginning.
Already we’ve installed 16 honey bee hives on the property and are beginning our queen-rearing operation. The project launch was covered by dozens of news outlets (including this one), including some comprehensive, educational articles in Crosscut Media and Yes! Magazine. A few weeks ago, in the wake of intensive publicity around our launch, the St. Louis airport announced–hey!–they’re going to put bees on their land too. And then the Port told the Flight Path team they want to dedicate 50 acres to pollinator habitat; we’re working with them to begin mulching and planting to start this fall, and install habitats for bumblebees, mason bees, and other native bees in the spring.
The Common Acre and airport curators identified an exhibit site and are gathering some of the region’s best artists, including Mandy Greer, David Lasky, Celeste Cooning, and many more.
Our goal is to make this project a model for urban agriculture everywhere: from corporate campuses to colleges and universities to cities in decay, even to vertically-farmed properties. As long as people are living in cities (and the trend only points to more and more urbanization), we need to find ways to produce food in those cities. And food needs pollinators.
“Flight Path” means not just the trajectory of planes or bees — it also means the trajectory of humans. It’s up to us to choose where we go.