Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Honey Bees Feed the Food Desert

Cleveland Botanical Garden Slavic Village Learning Farm

Thumbs up to the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s urban learning farms, where honey bees pollinate the food desert!

Cleveland Botanical Garden Turns A Food Desert Into An Urban Farm

The term “food desert” describes communities in the United States that lack fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. These areas spring up in impoverished neighborhoods within cities. Food deserts create a problem for residents forced to rely on local quickie marts selling heavily processed foods laden with sugar and fat. In response, the USDA has developed its Food Desert Locator, a map of the nation’s food deserts. A search of this map discloses 10+ food deserts in Cleveland. Enter the Cleveland Botanical Garden (CBG).

Cleveland Botanical Garden Transforms Urban Agriculture Education

Green Corps, a program grown by Cleveland Botanical Garden, employs and educates dozens of Cleveland-area teenagers to work at one of its “urban learning farms.” The teens boost access to fresh food in nearby food deserts. Meanwhile, Green Corps helps the 14- to 18-year-olds build life, work, and leadership skills. But that’s not all.

Green Corps offers urban teenagers a unique chance to work on a farm and learn about agriculture. The teens regularly offer fresh produce at weekly farm stands. They install small education gardens in home daycare facilities. They engage their neighbors in healthy living and a greener lifestyle. All the while, Green Corp teenagers learn the essential role of honey bees in gardening success. They discover that honey bees and other pollinators increase the gardens’ yield, boost the size of fruits and vegetables at yield, speed up plant maturity, and produce more symmetrical vegetables and fruit.

The Cleveland Botanical Garden Meets Sponsor-A-Hive

Through CBG’s Green Corps effort, high school students work at urban learning farms. They help deliver affordable nutritious food to nearby food desert communities. In doing so, they discover the irreplaceable benefit of bees. As master pollinators, honey bees are an integral part of garden success. That’s why CBG applied for a grant via the Honeybee Conservancy’s “Sponsor-A-Hive” program.



The Honeybee Conservancy HBC launched the Sponsor-A-Hive grant in 2015 with a simple idea – strategically place honey bees and solitary bees in locations like the Cleveland Botanical Garden, where they can bolster bee populations, advance education, and pollinate locally grown food.

Like Bees To Honey, It Was A Perfect Match!

Bees offer a wonderful way for children and communities to learn. Lessons in science, ecology, agriculture, societal structure, mutual cooperation—even history– occur in caring for and observing the activity of bees. The innovative Sponsor-A-Hive program helps people safely set up, maintain, and observe on-site bee sanctuaries. Schools, community gardens, and green spaces across the United States apply.

Sponsor-A-Hive bestows material grants in the form of honey or solitary bees. Homes, bee keeping equipment, and information on how to care for the bees may be part of the package, too. Bees are strategically placed where they can bolster bee populations, advance science and environmental education, and pollinate locally grown food.

No wonder Cleveland Botanical Gardens earned one of The Honeybee Conservancy’s coveted Sponsor-A-Hive grants awarded in 2015.

Honey Bees and Education Work Together

Urban learning farms grow and sell food. They also give students in the Green Corps the opportunity to learn about bees. In her grant application, Renata Brown, former vice president of education at CBG, points out the win/win.

Win One: “Our farms are all located in food deserts, where it is almost impossible for residents to find and purchase fresh produce. Enter the busy bees, the natural partner to farms and growing. High school students work at the farms each summer, learning to plant, tend, harvest, and sell produce to the community.”

Win Two: “We have the ability to magnify the value of honey bee hives one hundred times. We tour groups through our learning farms and community garden spaces weekly, throughout the growing season—and we always talk about our bees. We see interest in people’s eyes grow once they learn about our bees. The fears go away.”

Supporting Sustainable Cleveland 2019, Too!

In backing CBG’s Green Corp effort, the honey bee charity, The Honeybee Conservancy, also taps into Sustainable Cleveland 2019. This 10-year initiative engages people from all walks of life. The ambitious plan is devised to transform the second largest city in Ohio—Cleveland— into a green city. Make no mistake about it: there will be bees!

“We are very pro bee,” concludes Renata Brown. “Our honey bee hives are a ‘high-profile’ ambassador, helping all of their sister bees to educate the masses!”


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