The Art+Science of Bees

It's a model for airports everywhere: use scrub, inaccessible land to do something revolutionary: support a local food system.

Habitat for Bees

Instead of acres of invasive blackberry and scotch broom, the project introduces native plants to support the honey bees and wild bees in the area. These plants can become seed farms for similar projects in the region, or even to create pollinator hedgerows on local farms. What had been "useless" land will now contribute to local bees and local food, which in turn will cut down on carbon emissions.

The Port of Seattle did the heavy lifting by planting 20,000 plants over 20 acres of what used to be a golf course. The Common Acre began regular surveying of the property even before the planting; we are identifying communities of bees and the potential impact of the new forage and habitat for them.

What happens when you don't mow. Photo © Rod Hatfield

What happens when you don't mow. Photo © Rod Hatfield

Honey Bee Help

Honey bees are the linchpin of our industrial agricultural system, and by now most people have heard of "Colony Collapse" and the trials of this particular species. We installed honey beehives at the airport in an effort to dramatize parallels to human society: honey bees, for instance, have solved a number of issues around transportation, density, and resource conservation.

The number of "flight operations" (takeoffs and landings) of an airport pales in comparison to that of a beehive, with its 15,000 foragers per hive, each taking off and landing up to a dozen times per day. (Do that math! Meanwhile, Sea-Tac Airport — one of the nation's busiest — saw a "mere" 932 flight operations per day in 2014.) How do the bees do it? What can we learn?

We are also raising Northwest, disease-resistant queen bees at our airport apiaries, an effort that takes advantage of the large, secure area of the property. The bees are distributed to area beekeepers.

Take offs and landings of all kinds. Photo © Rod Hatfield

Take offs and landings of all kinds. Photo © Rod Hatfield

Starting a Dialogue

We used the traffic inside the airport to stage an art exhibit, which ran from June 2014 through April 2015 (and then went to Seattle City Hall for two months). With an estimated 2 million viewers, this exhibit helped introduce the important dialogue to travelers crossing the globe, and presented the setting as we imagine a parallel universe: not a terminal surrounded by concrete, but as an art gallery surrounded by a farm. Meet the artists of Flight Path here.

An Unexpected Oasis

The Port of Seattle is the nation's 15th busiest airport, with 37.5 million visitors per year. Could there be a more unlikely place to develop sustainable ecosystems? In fact, the property is already home to a wealth of wild songbirds, and — through wetlands restoration — to salmon, herons, and amphibians. The transportation setting is the perfect place to talk about integrated solutions for our increasingly urbanized society.

A Group Effort

Flight Path is produced in partnership with the Port of Seattle and Urban Bee Company4culture and generous Kickstarter donors who raised the initial funds to make it happen. See the whole list of amazing contributors here.

Landing Near You?

Are you interested in developing a similar project at your airport? Whether are an elected official, a civil servant, a scientist, or just an interested party, please let us know!