(This article was published in the Spring 2014 issue of Micah Mandate - written by Christy Ulmet.)
A man in a cotton jacket with a hood and a netted mask opens up a wood encasing to reveal a world of thousands of bees buzzing about. The worker bees are busy making honey, while the drone bees mate and the queen bee is on her own endeavor laying eggs. These bees have been up since sunrise and will be hard at work until sunset, filling the box they call their home at Trevecca Nazarene University with honey.
More than 100,000 bees have made their home among the chickens on campus. Nearly two years ago, the university purchased 30,000 bees to expand the on-campus farm learning lab for Trevecca students.
Trevecca Urban Farm, which includes everything from vegetable gardens to tilapia to chickens, is operated by Jason Adkins, environmental projects coordinator, through the J.V. Morsch Center for Social Justice. Adding bees to the farm was a way for Trevecca to respond to the increasingly endangered species while educating students on sustain- ability issues. Adkins hopes it signals the university’s commitment to caring for the earth.
“To keep the species alive, we have to be beekeepers and raise up beekeepers. We want to teach beekeeping to others and get people interested and equipped to keep their own bees now or later in their lives,” Adkins said.
Bees pollinate 80 to 90 percent of the vegetables American’s eat, but because of increasing use of pesticides, beekeepers are reporting sharp declines in the bee population.
In the mid-2000’s, beekeepers began to report the loss of 30 to 90 percent of their hives. Colony loss is not out of the ordinary especially in the down season for beehives, but the numbers were far from normal. Scientists gave it a name: CCD, otherwise known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
The cause of this can mostly be linked to pesticides. When bees are sprayed with these chemicals, they cannot find their way back to their hives and they die.
Longtime local bee enthusiast John Seaborne sold the bees to Trevecca. He has been selling bees to beekeepers for years, and received numerous phone calls from his beekeepers this past winter about more colony decline. Beekeepers nationwide reported losses of nearly 40 to 50 percent in the 2012-2013 winter season, said Seaborne.
“Because of their size, bees seem insignificant. But if humans neglect them, humans are really neglecting themselves. They are a vital part of the ecosystem,” Adkins said.
Trevecca’s three beehives each started with about 10,000 bees in them. The $300 investment has expanded to include around 100,000 bees.
In an effort to get younger people interested in bee keeping, Adkins delegated a few of his farm employees to help with the hives and also appointed students to help with hive chores during the day.
Brian Wong, a 2010 graduate of Trevecca, is back on campus helping with the bees as part of his job on the farm.
Including students in the care of the bees and discussing farming and food justice issues both in class and on the farm is part of the environmental justice program on campus.
“This is all part of the process of building a very particular kind of education farm on campus,” Wong said.
Several social justice majors have taken interest in the bees.
Senior Brianna Rieck wakes up before sunrise many times during the week to help care for the bees. “(Adkins) is very intentional about what he does. He will bring you alongside him and have you do what he is doing to teach you. That’s the best way for us to be able to take what we’ve learned to wherever we’re headed to,” Rieck said.
Rieck has been raising awareness about beekeeping by bringing her friends down to the hives to show them what the school is doing.
Inside those mysterious little hives, bees are always busy at work, flying every which way as they get their tasks done. The drone bees, or the males, create the harmony of a family by mating with the queen bee. The worker bees scurry about as they yield their honey. While one would think the queen bee runs the show, it is actually the consensus of the worker bees that provides all of the decision-making for the colony, said Seaborne.
“Each colony on its own is like one very dynamic organism. As a beekeeper, when you come into that space, you kind of interact with that community,” Wong said.
In addition to exposing students to the plight of bees and teaching them beekeeping skills, Trevecca officials eventually hope the bees will be a food source for the community.