KC Cares: MO Hives KC is all the buzz
Things are buzzing at 50th Street and Wabash Avenue, and it’s all because of MO Hives KC. The nonprofit has brought urban beekeeping to the fore in this Kansas City neighborhood.
Local pediatrician Marion Pierson teamed up with beekeeper Brian Reeves in 2019 to create the organization after hearing about a project Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey have done in Detroit that takes vacant lots and turns them into urban apiaries. She consulted with them to recreate the project here.
“We started talking about what it would take to get people of color interested in urban conservation,” Pierson says. “They just shared what their true story was: A personal connection to the work they were doing. And when they shared that personal connection, others started joining in.”
Pierson met Reeves, an experienced beekeeper, when she was taking a beginner beekeeping class.
Then her nephew, who was home while his university was shut down during the pandemic, also joined the effort. He ended up getting so involved that he switched from being a sociology major to being an agriculture major and managed to return to school with a full-ride scholarship.
“We want people to be exposed to different STEM careers that they may not have thought about for themselves or their children, things like botany and entomology, sciences that don’t tend to roll off the tongue of urban-dwellers’ mouths when they’re thinking about what are you going to be when you grow up,” Pierson says.
To that end, they established a partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation for youth programming last May.
In order to get the apiary going, Pierson made a deal with the owners of a group of six vacant lots grouped together at 50th and Wabash. The owners wouldn’t have to keep mowing and removing things that were dumped there if MO Hives KC could get a long-term low-cost lease for the land.
And it’s not just in one place. They’ve installed hives at Hospital Hill by a community garden. There are more hives at St. Teresa’s Academy and even out in Jefferson City at the governor’s mansion.
Pierson promotes the hives as a good way to use the land and discourage illegal dumping.
“Vacant lots in the inner city often end up as dumping sites. What’s a deterrent for dumping? Fifty-thousand stinging insects are,” she says.
People in the neighborhood have noticed their efforts. Eddie Ellison says he’s happy to have them. He helps with repairs and other odd jobs around the apiary, sometimes as a volunteer and sometimes as a paid worker.
“They took the vacant lots and turned them into nice, attractive scenery. It makes the wildlife much healthier. You see lots of birds and different things we hadn’t seen around here for a long time,” Ellison says.
Nature isn’t the only thing in the neighborhood benefitting from the apiary.
“It’s cleaned up the neighborhood some. It’s a joy to have. They have meetings and functions over there. It brings lots of people together, not just the ones in the neighborhood, but it brings lots of people from outside the neighborhood,” Ellison says. “It encourages us. We can help each other in lots of ways.”
Pierson also hopes their efforts will make an impact on the beekeeping world at large.
“Beekeeping is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S., and it is a pretty homogenous space. There’s not a lot of diversity there. And we honestly believe that the conservation conversation needs to include everyone, and when you don’t have a lot of representation, you can’t tackle problems nearly as well,” Pierson says.
It’s easy to volunteer with MO Hives KC—even if you don’t want to get up close and personal with the bees. Pierson says they always need people to work the garden areas, removing brush or planting things and doing landscaping. You can also make or cart around sugar water to feed the bees.
Pierson says she loves that the apiary is a “safe place for kids to explore and learn.”
Maria Carson, 14, has taken that learning component to heart. She did her school science project on honey because of her experiences with MO Hives KC.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to harvest food, take care of each plant, see what the plant needs, a lot about bees and how to take care of them and how they work and pollinate flowers,” she says.
She hopes to put a hive in her own backyard someday.
Next on Pierson’s list is an expansion, establishing hive areas in St. Louis and Springfield with the intention of inspiring people the way the Detroit project inspired her.
For more information on how to volunteer, visit mohives.org/volunteer-now