WEST CHICAGO – Beekeeping has long been a part of life at Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago, from its time as a private farm to its current status as a DuPage County attraction.
“Having the beehives fills out the historic nature of the farm,” said Keith McClow, who runs Kline Creek.
Although the farm was bought by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in the 1960s, it didn’t become a living history farm until 1989. But before it officially opened in its current capacity, Lawrence DuBose of Carol Stream was keeping bees at the farm for limited weekend events.
Today, after serving as a Kline Creek Farm beekeeper for nearly 30 years and beekeeping on his own for several years before that, DuBose, 93, is worried about the state of honey bees, whose numbers have greatly decreased due to pesticides and parasites, he said.
“The condition of beekeeping right now is in a questionable state because we have lost too many bees in recent years,” DuBose said.
The number of managed honey bee colonies in the country has decreased from 5 million in the 1940s to only about 2.5 million today, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In response to these challenges, DuBose uses beekeeping programs at Kline Creek Farm to help spread the word about the bees’ plight.
Guests to the farm’s Honey House watch a video about bees and the beekeeping process, which also addresses the danger of pesticides. DuBose then answers questions from visitors, who are welcome to go near the hives on the farm.
However, DuBose doesn’t harvest honey from the bees while guests are present in order to prevent them from getting stung.
The farm has about 20 hives, each of which house about 50,000 to 60,000 bees, DuBose said.
About 10 other volunteers help DuBose tend to the bees and talk to visitors at Kline Creek Farm.
The farm celebrated National Honey Bee Day on Aug. 17. During the event, visitors learned about the beekeeping process and the important role bees play in the world’s food supply. They also received tips to make their own gardens more bee-friendly.
While community members visit the Honey House at Kline Creek Farm, Honey House volunteers also go out into the community as part of the farm’s education efforts.
DuBose has worked with groups of all ages, from preschoolers to senior citizens.
For those who want to try beekeeping for themselves, Kline Creek Farm began offering a class on the subject last year from January to June and continued the class this year. About 30 people participated in the class both years.
“There is more interest in beekeeping today than [there’s] ever been,” DuBose said.
Beyond programs and classes, beekeeping at the farm provides something else to community members: honey.
Honey is sold at the farm’s visitor center, and once it’s put on the shelves, it’s as good as gone.
“Our honey has gained quite a reputation as being excellent honey and locally grown,” McClow said.
Because of the challenges bees face, DuBose is not sure how much honey he’ll harvest by September, but he’s hoping to reach 500 pounds.
In the past, that number has averaged about 2,000 pounds, but DuBose has seen a gradual decrease over the years to about 500 pounds last year.
Amid these struggles for the beekeeping industry, Kline Creek Farm will continue to celebrate its bees.
“We celebrate Honey Bee Day everyday,” McClow said.