Lafayette Greens. - SKYLER MURRY
Lafayette Greens.

Amid the concrete and cityscape of downtown Detroit lies Lafayette Greens, an urban garden nestled in a plot where the Lafayette Building once stood. The urban garden positions itself as a focal point in a conversation about the burgeoning urban food movement and its potential to enhance city living, change a globalized food system, and address urban sustainability and food security.

It’s also one of 30 sites in metro Detroit chosen for a study researching some at-risk pollinators: bumblebees.

Native bees are some of the most important pollinators in our ecosystem. According to a report by the Center for Biological Diversity, native bee pollination accounts for more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services in the U.S. annually, and 90 percent of our wild plants depend on them. But native bees are in trouble.

Green Toe Detroit is one of the largest beehouses in the city, and where Joan Mandell is a beekeeper and co-owner. She’s concerned about the disappearance of bees, noting that it’s a symptom of a bigger issue.

“The decline of native species and honeybees alike is a warning that we are living in a time of environmental tragedy,” Mandell says.

One-third of our food production depends on bees, according to a report by Greenpeace, but the populations of more than 700 species of North American bees are dipping rapidly. Bee-killing pesticides, land development, and industrial agriculture are all culprits in their demise.

In a study on bumblebee declines in urban development, University of Michigan students explored ways that green city planning can save the bees.


“We are finding that urban environments are spreading,” says Paul Glaum, a researcher at U-M’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “There’s a smattering of studies that have come out that say green cities or green city planning can actually be really beneficial for these at-risk pollinators, so we wanted to see what … happens when…