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Thousands of honeybees flutter around a small, man-made hive at the headquarters of Alvéole, an urban beekeeping operation in north Denver. Amid the chaos, Quentin Geant, who works as the beekeeping team manager for the company, pushes his index finger into a slat where the insects have constructed honeycomb, breaking the small cells of beeswax and freeing the golden honey inside.
“They will repair this by tomorrow morning,” Geant says as 20 bees frantically swarm the puncture, and he tastes the honey.
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Urban beehives like this one have proliferated on Denver rooftops, terraces, and gardens since the beginning of the pandemic. “In the last year, we’ve seen an uptick in interest both from the residential and the commercial side,” Sam Schloeman, a regional coordinator for The Best Bees Company, says. “As people start to think about how they’re reopening offices and coming back to work, they’re starting to see the benefit of increasing our connection with nature.”
The Best Bees Company, for example, more than doubled the number of hives they installed in Denver this year compared to last. The addition of bees can offer employees the opportunity to accompany beekeepers to tend the hives a few times a month.
“Caring for the bees adds to the sense of responsibility and fulfillment that I get from my job,” Nick Moschetti, general manager of The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa, says. The Brown Palace has had five hives on its roof since 2010, and Moschetti has helped their beekeeper tend to the bees for the past year. In addition to producing honey and promoting sustainability, the pollinators buzzing above offer Moschetti the chance to nurture something.
According to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2020, nearly 40 percent of the national workforce did their jobs remotely during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Colorado now ranks among the top 15 states for volume of remote workers, according to a report published by FlexJobs in May. Workers who successfully continued to do their jobs remotely are now hesitant to go back into the office. Now that COVID-19 vaccines are nationally mandated for large office spaces, people are left to wonder whether the transition back to their place of business will be as smooth as it was to working from their coffee table.
“Feeling powerless is the worst in terms of psychological outcomes,” says Kim Gregens, a professor of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver, as well as the school’s Deputy COVID Response Coordinator. “And that is what the pandemic did to many people. Psychologically, beekeeping is really a viable way to allow people to feel like they’re contributing. This little bit of mastery is like a tonic for our mental health.”
Beacon Capital Partners, a Boston-based real estate investment firm that manages some of the largest buildings in Denver, is a client of The Best Bees Company. In the past year, the firm invested in nine beehives for locations across the Mile High City. A single hive from Best Bee Company costs $300 and comes with an annual maintenance fee of $3,000. Up to 50,000 bees live in a single hive. The insects can also travel up to three miles to find pollen, and together they produce more than 100 pounds of honey in a single season, which typically runs from spring to late fall.
Since Alvéole opened in Denver last April, the company has installed 40 hives, including two on top of Republic Plaza, the tallest building in the city. The company conducts monthly, hour-long workshops at their installations, during which office workers can make candles, lip balm, and soap from beeswax. “Some people might not love the idea of bees, but after you bring them to a workshop or to make a candle, they become amazed and fall in love with it,” Geant says.
Denver Place, Colorado’s largest office complex at 18th and Curtis streets, invested in two beehives earlier this year in an effort to draw tenants back downtown. Lorrie Brown, the building’s office manager, said in an email that the workshops and monthly visits to the hives on site has created a stronger sense of community and quickly became “our most positive initiative.” Tenants of Denver Place voted to name the queens of each hive Queen Bee-yonce and Queen Polly Nator.
“Employers who are being smart are saying, ‘Let’s look at ways to rework our office space once again,’ ” says Jeff Engelstad, a clinical professor at the University of Denver’s Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management. “Let’s make it feel more like home. If we value having people in the office, then we need to make the office environment something they would prefer to come to now more than before.”
In other words, the benefits go beyond harvesting honey and making sweet smelling candles. “It is very peaceful to go through the hive,” Katie White, beekeeper with The Best Bees Company, says. “If I don’t have time to go on a hike or a walk, this is the daily way I connect with nature and other beings besides people.”