When Fort Collins, Colorado, brewery, New Belgium Brewing, scouted for an East Coast location in 2009, they chose Asheville, North Carolina, the home of Beer City USA, and by 2012, Bee City USA.
This 100% employee-owned company is anything but conventional; they specifically asked for help finding a brownfield to build on! They found their site next to the French Broad River, flowing through the city in an old industrial area that was experiencing a renaissance, complete with art studios, restaurants and greenways.
With environmental stewardship as one of New Belgium’s core values, they remediated the former livestock market’s contaminated soil and began converting the 18-acre parcel into lush pollinator habitat, rich in a diversity of native plants, shrubs and trees and free of pesticides, with the exception of herbiciding a very aggressive exotic invasive species.
In August 2016, New Belgium staff came out on a Sunday morning and planted 500 milkweed plants – donated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Monarch Watch - around the brewery. In a case of “build it and they will come,” six weeks after planting, they found their young milkweed covered in monarch caterpillars! Some of them were crawling across the sidewalk from milkweed in planter islands to find a place to transform into chrysalides. Staff even found a chrysalis hanging on a hose reel.
At one point when the hungry caterpillars had eaten nearly all the leaves off the plants, friends at UNC-Asheville (a Bee Campus USA affiliate) came to the rescue and donated over 100 more milkweed plants to help feed them. Sharing a few of the caterpillars with local schools so students could raise and release them, they carefully protected every stray they found until it became a butterfly and took flight toward Mexico to overwinter.
New Belgium sustainability specialist Sarah Fraser recently led a tour during National Pollinator Week 2017, pointing out the role that well adapted native plants also are playing in their storm water management system and rain gardens. Filled with tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), meadowsweet (Spirea virginiana), blazing star (Liatris spicata), St. Johns’ Wort (Hypericum calycinum), tickseed (Coreopsis spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), southern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and many, many other locally native species, the landscape is maturing and supporting all manner of pollinators. Brownfield soil has been mounded up into a berm covered in a meadow of flowering plants that are bioremediating the contaminants. The tour’s grand finale was looking over the ephemeral Penland Creek from the bridge, where towering banks were draped in flowers much like the legendary hanging gardens of Babylon might have looked!
New Belgium is demonstrating that corporate campuses can be beautiful AND provide habitat for pollinators and birds year-round. This walk is well worth taking on your next visit to Asheville.
Many thanks to New Belgium for donating tips from their Liquid Center (tasting room) to Bee City USA during National Pollinator Week!
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA director and board.