Downtown buzz

Durham company brings pollinators to businesses

Madeline Gray—
Bees congregate on one of the hives at a new NC State apiary on April 21.

Cities across North Carolina will have a new buzz this spring as a Durham-based startup is locating honey bee populations on business and college campuses. The company, Bee Downtown, is focused on increasing the honey bee population in cities across the U.S.

In 2016, Bee Downtown installed 24 hives in Durham and Raleigh, including the state’s largest observation hive at Burt’s Bees headquarters in the American Tobacco Campus. This year the company plans to install more than 50 new beehives at businesses across North Carolina.Each participating business receives employee education training on bees, agriculture and food production. While Bee Downtown does not harvest honey in the first year of a hive installation, a mature hive can produce 40 pounds of honey in a season. That honey goes to the sponsor of the hive. Bee Downtown also plans to sell honey produced by its own hives and from honey not used by sponsors. The company will begin selling in stores throughout the Triangle and online once they take their first honey for the year.

Bee Downtown is the brainchild of entrepreneur and fourth-generation beekeeper Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, who developed her hive habit on her family’s farm in the Pitt County town of Farmville. Bonner’s family farm is called Country Square Ranch which transitioned from growing tobacco and is now primarily used for cattle, bees and soy beans.”When a business installs one of our hives, it is communicating a commitment to our environment, while also rebuilding healthy honey bee populations,” the 24-year-old Bonner said.Communication and marketing is a key part of Bee Downtown’s business, and the company provides education programs on bees and their positive effect on agriculture and the environment.

“Bee Downtown’s rooftop and observation hives have become a staple attraction at the American Tobacco Campus,” said American Tobacco Campus vice president of real estate Michael Goodmon. “They serve as an effective marketing tool for multiple businesses on the campus and have created quite the buzz of excitement for the Durham community as a whole.”

The buzz has caught the attention of some of North Carolina’s largest businesses, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Bandwidth, IBM and SAS. Bonner’s alma mater, NC State University, has eight hives on its Centennial Campus.Businesses who sponsor hives can expect visits from Bee Downtown staffers weekly during the spring and summer months and once a month during the fall and winter. While Bee Downtown is focused on a mission of doing good for people and the environment, they are a for-profit company and each hive costs the sponsoring business around $5,000, but can vary based on the number of hives and the location. Businesses receive a custom-painted hive including the bees, the honey produced starting in the second year and seasonal hive updates. Bee Downtown also reinvests some of its profits into a nonprofit arm that focuses on bee education in schools.

For businesses concerned about safety, Bee Downtown states on their web site that unlike wasps or yellow jackets, honey bees sting only as a last resort — since they die as a result.Bee Downtown currently has hives in Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill, Rocky Mount and Charlotte.