Bees have been mysteriously dying in huge numbers all over the United States, which has food producers worried about their ability to meet demands during off seasons. I think we’ve all seen the photos of “What supermarkets will look like without bees.” It’s pretty scary and its lasting impact is downright terrifying. And that’s only in the myopic, human-centric view of what’s going on.  The holistic view is far more problematic.

The pollinators are the only way that certain plants reproduce and the whole ecology is at risk,” said Michael Bush, a widely published, leading voice for natural, practical beekeeping, to The Idea Forge.“Certain plants would become extinct and everything in the ecology, from what we eat to what raccoons eat will change. There is no telling what part of the whole that some of these play.”

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As average, non-beekeeping Americans, there are obviously things we can do to save the bees:

Use less (or no) insecticides,” Bush told me. “Plant things that bloom all year around and let them bloom. Mow them when they are done blooming. If you have empty fields or lots, plant things to help the bees.” Things like sweet clover, chicory, echinacea, dandelions, milkweed and fruit trees.

But beyond this—what the average person can do to help—there is more that needs to be done. There are beekeeping jobs that a lot of people, frankly, just don’t want to do.

A lot of bee work is heavy lifting,” Bush said. “Those jobs don’t pay that much.”

A local organization has a big idea for helping solve the bee problem and filling those jobs—while tackling another issue as well—an idea that they’re bringing to Chicago Ideas Week.

Every year, around 650,000 people are released from prison. Because of the many challenging barriers these former convicts face in securing employment and housing, 30 percent of adult offenders released from state prisons are rearrested within the first six months of their release. In the same study, only around 40 percent of employers said they would consider hiring job applicants with criminal histories.

So why not kill two birds with one stone? Hire ex-convicts to be beekeepers. That’s what North Lawndale Employment Network is committed to:

• Assisting those with barriers to employment, especially former offenders, in securing jobs with family-supporting wages

• Partnering with employers in recruiting and retaining workers

• Advocating on behalf of low-income job-seekers

• Empowering job seekers with access to financial tools and literacy

• Creating a thriving and sustainable community

By hiring ex-convicts to be beekeepers, not only are we filling the incredibly important jobs for the environment that no one really wants to do—but we’re helping men and women who have possibly hit a bump or two in the road along to way re-find themselves and more effectively re-assimilate back into society and the workforce.

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There is really no side that doesn’t benefit from this solution.

Are there opportunities to enact these types of initiatives beyond just bees? Without a doubt.

To find out more about these solutions, you can get your ticket to Chicago Ideas Week’s Sweet Beginnings Start with Bees at the North Lawndale Employment Network at the link.  Tickets are $15 and the event runs at 9 a.m. this Friday, Oct. 16.

And stay tuned for The Idea Forge’s Chicago Ideas Week coverage for extensive updates on what’s going down.