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How one woman is trying to save Miami’s bees

Danielle Bender normally checks on her beehives in Little River every Sunday afternoon. But on the Sunday when Hurricane Irma hit, her only option was to hope for the best.

To keep the hive boxes protected from Irma’s winds, she used ratchet ties to strap them to their wooden bases, cement blocks and to each other.

“I expected to open them up and see total devastation or them freaking out, stressed, scared,” she said.

Instead, she opened the beehive to find an abundance of honey.

“I was just like, ‘Wait, what are you guys doing?'” Danielle said. “They were cooped up inside, they had nothing to do.”

Danielle has been a beekeeper since May. Now her new passion for the creatures that pollinate our food and flowers is a 2017 Miami Foundation Public Space Challenge grant winner. Amazingly enough, Danielle had never been around a beehive, and was scared of bees before making her proposal.

“I’m so proud to be from Miami, and I love my city so much and I’m like, you know what? If I’m not doing something to take agency in my community and care about it, and wanting to do better, than what am I doing?” Danielle said. “I want to do something that benefits my community in an impactful and meaningful way.”

Editor’s note: This paragraph has been updated to reflect that Danielle has been beekeeping since May.

Danielle started thinking about bees when Miami-Dade started spraying pesticides, like naled, last year to stop the spread of the Zika Virus. The spraying killed a millions of bees as a side-effect.

“Anger led to curiosity, which then made me think about possibilities,” she said.

So she connected with Casey Zap who runs The Center for Subtropical Affairs. It’s a community garden and tropical fruits nursery on what used to be an empty lot in Little River. Danielle keeps her bees there, and they help pollinate his fruits.

Now she has two hives of her own. She’s been giving people all over Miami tours to show them the bee caretaking process.

Editor’s note: This paragraph has been updated to correctly reflect how many hives Danielle oversees.

Showing people around her hives helps Danielle do what she loves: Inspire people to get rid of the fear of being stung, and recognize what basic necessities honeybees provide, like pollinating our food, plants and flowers, and making honey.

The $15,000 she won from the Public Space Challenge grant will help her place more beehives in parks, buy new beekeeping suits for others to tour her beehives and create arts-based programming to teach people about bees.

She’s working with Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation Department to find three more locations for her beehives. This way, she can showcase more hives in public spaces, which helps more people get to know the bees and helps grow the bee population.

And having enough money for beekeeping suits makes it easier for other people to tag along while she checks on the honeybees.

“This is something I look forward to all week,” Danielle said.

The artsy aspects of the project will get local artists and musicians involved, and promote learning about bees in creative ways. Danielle’s even hoping to start workshops that will teach people how to harvest honey.

“I think the arts-based aspect of the programming will really give people a different approach to bees, and to their whole world and community.”

Want to check out Danielle’s beehives? Follow @publichives for more information on how to visit.