Life hasn’t always been sweet to the residents of the St. Herman House–FOCUS Cleveland homeless shelter, but a touch of honey is helping craft a brighter future.
Four years ago, St. Herman House introduced a beekeeping program with the hopes of not only teaching residents a new and rewarding skill but also generating funds for the nonprofit via honey sales. During that time, the apiary has grown from four to 61 hives, and eight shelter residents have taken part in the program, which has raised $3,500 to date.
And they’re just getting started, according to assistant director Santhe Loizos. “The beekeeping initiative is part of a larger vision to create a recovery ranch, where men recovering from addiction would live and work, gaining hands-on experience in agriculture, including greenhouse vegetables and flowers and livestock,” says Loizos. “The beehives are the first step in that vision.”
That vision is already taking shape on St. Herman House’s 75-acre farm in Trumbull County, where 40 of the hives are housed. The first of five large greenhouses was recently completed, Director Paul Finley says, and the nonprofit is forming a committee to explore a fundraising campaign for building a bunkhouse that would enable people to stay on property. (Currently, all of the work is done via day trips from Ohio City, where St. Herman House is located.)
“We’ve made tremendous progress,” says Finley. “Within two years, we hope to have all five greenhouses completed, all of which will have high revenue potential.”
All money raised supports St. Herman House—FOCUS Cleveland, a former Orthodox Christian monastery that has been a haven for homeless men and the hungry in Ohio City since 1977. The shelter serves three hot meals a day year-round (the only facility to do so in Cleveland) and offers emergency shelter and transitional housing to a total of 40 men.
Kirk Barratt has been one of those residents since August 2017, and in that time, he’s taken on the position of head beekeeper—or, as others at St. Herman House like to call him, “the bee whisperer.” A military veteran, Barratt says the practice of beekeeping has helped him manage his PTSD. (Barratt isn’t alone: a number of other initiatives have popped up around the country after making the positive connection between beekeeping and PTSD.)
“I find it very therapeutic,” says Barratt, who originally hails from Trinidad. “It’s been very calming for me.”
Traveling to the Trumbull-based farm can also give residents a much-needed perspective shift, Finley says. “There are people we deal with that have never been outside the inner city. I’ve had men stand face-to-face with a cow and say, ‘You mean when I go to McDonald’s, this is where the burger comes from?’” Finley says. “They start to see the world differently from their isolated mean streets of Cleveland.”
Though most of the hives are housed in Trumbull County, one beehive is based on-site at St. Herman House in Ohio City, and the others are spread amongst an organic family farm in Newbury Township; Rid-All Green Partnership; and Ellsworth Acres, an agricultural co-op and sober house for women in North Royalton.
Finley says they’re just starting to tap into the potential of the hives, as “it’s typically two or three years before you hit maximum production.” Right now, they only sell the honey at fundraisers and via word of mouth, but Finley says they plan to have a display at Tremont Farmers Market after this year’s harvest and in future years.
With the promise of more earning potential, Finley is hopeful about what the future will bring for the residents of St. Herman House.
"The ability to create working opportunities in a healthy environment helps us have better outcomes with the people we're trying to serve—that's golden for us," says Finley. "The land we have [in Trumbull] is a beautiful opportunity that just needs to be developed."