Swarm Portland's mission to create the backyard bee refuge

swarm portland hives

Swarm Portland

POCKETknife.life interview with Susan Laarman, Founder, Swarm Portland


What is the mission of Swarm Portland?

Swarm Portland is busy as a bee creating more bee and pollinator habitat. Together, we are making Portland metro area and urban bee sanctuary – one garden refuge at a time. We offer a variety of items that can help you create a backyard bee refuge. Sales of our bee-related products help fund our education and advocacy work.


How would you describe your passion for bees?

Swarm Portland started with an agit-prop event at the Portland Farmers Market on National Honey Bee Day in August.  That summer, Oregon was voting on an initiative to label genetically modified foods, and our "swarm" event raised awareness of the link between the chemicals GMOs use and the decline of our bees.  A few dozen Portlanders dressed up as bees and we acted out a "Bee Die In" that was fun, educational and also attracted all of our TV stations!

When did it start?

August 15, 2014 on National Honey Bee Day

What inspires you to do it?


As a mother, I have long been concerned about industrial agriculture''s use of harmful pesticides.

How do you find time for it?

Swarm Portland's activities connect many of my passions: I like to garden and cook, and I care about our clean water and a healthy environment. Our bees are the canary if the coal mine so I just make time to help our pollinators because we have too much at risk. I don't want to live in a world without coffee and cherry pie!  I've seen what we can do when we work together, and saving our bees can also bring out many other important changes that will benefit us all.

How does it impact the rest of your life?  

This project became something that I work on with my son, Ethan.  He's in high school and last spring as I was gearing up with bee habitat creation work, and he was thinking about summer jobs, we talked about doing some street fairs and markets to raise awareness and some funds. Summer work for young people is harder to find these days, so this was a lesson in a small business start up.  He can't be as involved during the school year, but he may take over more tasks this summer.

Is this a singular passion or do you have others?

I also started another project called Life on a Fault Line that helps people better prepare for the Cascadia quake. I have personal and professional experience with natural disasters and I felt that we needed more attention to the risk, and a more engaging way to learn to live with it.  

Do you own a pocket knife?
Yes, a Leatherman tool (support a local business!). It's now part of my emergency quake car kit so I will have it with me at all times just in case I need it.