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Bee Inspired: A Magna Beekeeper’s Backyard – and Beyond

Rhiannon LaForest’s idyllic backyard in Troy, Michigan, is home to eight busy hives, nearly a million bees and a black-and-white rescue dog named Clover. Throughout the setting are plants designed to attract pollinators, everything from fragrant catmint to showy purple clematis. LaForest’s love for bees is evident in every detail of her life, from her rubber boots emblazoned with bees to a sign on a tree that reads: “Caution. Honey Bees Hard at Work. Do Not Disturb.”

Her enthusiasm for sustainability and bees is irresistible, and has spread to nearby Magna US headquarters, where six hives were recently installed. Employees are encouraged to learn beekeeping, tend the hives in their spare time, and consult with LaForest, who has become something of a bee whisperer at the Troy location, in addition to her role as Magna’s Marketing and Events Director.

“I love Magna’s commitment to sustainability, and I love the fact that I have been able to bring my hobby into Magna,” she said. “It’s an amazing way to bring it full circle. Not only are we improving our sustainability efforts, but we’re able to educate our employees about beekeeping and bees.”

What started as a fun hobby for the LaForest family several years ago, with just two hives and a third for native bees, has grown into a more serious endeavor.

The family - including husband Brian, a retired police officer and daughter Sarah - carefully tends to their hives located near a small stream, and harvest honey, wax, pollen and other products from their healthy colonies. The bounty from the bees is also used to make items which include candles, lip balm and furniture polish.

“We’ve even provided pollen, one of the most condensed forms of protein, to a friend who is a cancer patient to improve her nutrition,” LaForest said.

“As a beekeeper, I’m so excited that we’ve brought beehives to our workplace.”

On a recent May morning, the couple dress in their beekeeping outfits, and fire up a smoker, a device designed to overpower the alarm pheromones of the bees. The smoker makes hive maintenance easier and safer with minimal risk of stings, although LaForest notes: “I’ve probably been stung about 25 times. But I still love my bees.”

Tending bees has had a positive effect on LaForest that goes beyond her backyard. A growing awareness of environmental concerns has flourished along with Magna’s efforts to safeguard the planet, including a corporate commitment to achieve net-zero emissions, an important step in fighting climate change. Most importantly, she credits the bees with teaching her valuable life lessons, especially about working together to achieve common goals.

One insight: Like Magna employees, bees are committed to the communities in which they live and work.

“The bees are actually the only organisms outside of human beings that live and work in a community,” she said. “Everybody in the bee community has a job, just like in Magna. But one of the most important things I’ve learned from beekeeping is staying calm under stress. When you open the hives, you are entering into their home. The best thing you can do is stay calm, no matter how many thousands of bees are buzzing around your head. The bees have taught me that this works in the office too.”

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