These Kansas City beekeepers are bringing hives of pollinators to urban gardens and rooftops
Mo Hive KC has helped create nearly a dozen beehives in Kansas City community gardens and rooftops over the last two years. Now they've expanded their hives to Jefferson City in the hopes of educating the public about conservation and exposing youth to urban agriculture.
In the heart of Kansas City’s Blue Hills neighborhood, thousands of honey bees buzz in and out of 13 white hives, shaded by towering Japanese honeysuckle vines. Some of the boxes are decorated with bee drawings; others are signed by workers.
This spot is the largest of six locations around the city supported by Mo Hives KC, a nonprofit that’s been working for two years to revive the local bee population and teach young residents about conservation.
“If the bees die, we die,” says founder Brian Reeves. “I like to snack and eat. If the bees are gone, in five years, it’s gonna look like ‘Mad Max.’”
Reeves set about educating himself about beekeeping in 2017 after listening to a radio program about bee decline. He found a local bee introduction class and was hooked. Now he maintains 15 hives scattered between his home and a friend’s property.
Then he met Prairie Village pediatrician Marion Pierson at an introduction to beekeeping seminar in 2020.
Pierson had already been thinking about developing a program in Kansas City modeled after one in Detroit called Detroit Hives, which began in 2016. Pierson was especially inspired by the organization’s mission of engaging with and educating residents of color about beekeeping and conservation.
“A lot of inner city kids — Black and brown kids — don't understand that there is an HBCU two hours from them where they could major in agriculture,” she says. “And so they feel like agriculture is some far-off, large-tract thing. But agriculture can be urban ag.”
Together, Reeves and Pierson established Mo Hives KC as a nonprofit and set up a base of operations in an empty field on Wabash Avenue in Blue Hills.
The concept is fairly simple. Mo Hives KC builds beehives in vacant urban lots or on top of buildings inside urban spaces. They partner with Community Builders of Kansas City — of which Pierson’s husband, Emmet Pierson, Jr., is president and CEO — which leases the space to them at a low cost.
The small bee farms, known as apiaries, then help pollinate nearby community gardens.
Mo Hives KC has since grown to cover six spaces in Blue Hills, and they’re supporting five other hive locations around the city, including two hives on top of the Adams Mark hotel and two at Children’s Mercy.
Recently, they've even expanded beyond Kansas City — placing two hives at the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City, and securing a future location in St. Louis.
The group monitors the hives each month. For the Governor’s Mansion, they currently send beekeepers to Jefferson City to check on the colonies, but they’re training and outfitting the staff there to maintain the hives themselves.
“It gives us visibility to all the important political people and all the different functions they have at the Governor’s Mansion to tell the story of, one, Mo Hive, but ultimately of the importance of bees to the ecosystem,” Reeves says.
Their original Blue Hills plot has blossomed into a micro prairie, brimming with the kinds of native plants and grasses that pollinators love. The group is slowly cutting and burning the invasive Japanese honeysuckle plants that surround the hives.
“It's a way to reforest in the middle of the city,” she says. “So it's reforestation versus deforestation.”
They’ve added a Zen garden and a small pond, raised vegetable beds and built a wooden deck for seminars. And they’ve planted fruit-bearing trees like paw paws and wild plums.
Their efforts have also kept this lot clean from trash and illegal dumping.
“Nobody dumps here anymore,” she says. “And we don’t really mow. And so then we don’t put all that pollution into the environment.”
Brett Creason, the site coordinator at Mo Hives KC, says he’s passionate about transforming these empty spaces into something positive — like growing food instead of turf grass.
“Finding those species of plants that are beneficial to pollinators but then also beneficial to humans,” he says. “We need to rethink what our suburban landscapes are.”
Creason is working with students from the Kansas City metro in an internship program called Nature Action Crew, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation, that teaches them the ins and outs of urban agriculture.
“It just builds confidence where they learn how to plant a garden,” Creason says. “They learn how to keep bees. I think that they gain confidence that they can do these kinds of things in other areas.”
Kelli King, a 14-year-old who joined the Nature Action Crew, never handled bees before. But just a few days into the program, she’s already found peace with the insects that buzz in and around the Mo Hives KC plot.
“I used to be afraid of bees so much,” she says. “But they’re really calm.”
King says she’s considering studying agriculture in the future.
“I’m really not a bug person,” she says. “But bees make me so comfortable. They are really nice and sweet.”