Meandering the Renaissance Center’s Great Meadow on a sunlit summer afternoon, you might spy three squat maroon and white structures near the central copse of trees. As you draw closer, you notice the air traffic and soft drone of golden, fuzzy honeybees on their foraging missions.
These structures are the new hives of the UMass Bee Club, currently 100 students strong and growing. Many members, such as incoming president Alexandra Graham, joined because of their concern over threats to the bee population, and the future diversity of our food supply.
“I first became interested in bees a few years back when I learned about colony collapse disorder and started Googling,” relates Graham. “Turns out bees are the coolest ever, and I immediately fell in love. So as soon as I found out about UMass beekeeping I jumped right in.”
The Great Meadow backs up to the Agricultural Learning Center, a demonstration facility that allows students to get hands-on experience with bees. (Click here for a story on the Stockbridge Pollinator Garden).
Massachusetts Agricultural College was the first college to offer a formal beekeeping program. When Butterfield was still a field, and Orchard Hill an orchard, the eastern edge of campus buzzed with fifty working hives and a dedicated Apiary Laboratory.
But after the last beekeeping professor retired in the late 1960s, the program went dormant. The tradition was revived when founder Eamon McCarthy-Earls ’15, a backyard beekeeping enthusiast, arrived on campus. He founded the club in 2012, at first working with entomology research hives.
Beekeeping is a practice passed down through generations. As many lifelong apiarists are aging, in order to ensure the survival and diversity of healthy populations of bees, “to have youth interested in beekeeping right now is really important,” remarks Jarrod Fowler ’14G, pollinator expert at the Agricultural Learning Center.
The club’s goals are to establish a sustainable productive apiary on campus, create a resilient modern beekeeping program, and optimize the already pollinator-friendly Great Meadow as a pristine meadowland with even greater forage for bees.
But for the short term, says Graham, “we’re just caring for the hives and inspiring more people to learn about bees. We’re excited to be able to offer hands-on experience to our members.” She adds, “eventually there will be honey, and honey means extracting and filtering and bottling and all sorts of other fun things.”
Both on campus and culturally, says Earls, “we’re revitalizing a cultural heritage.”
NOTE: To join the club, “like” them on Facebook or contact them at; firstname.lastname@example.org. The Stockbridge School of Agriculture plans on offering a new course called Practical Beekeeping in the spring of 2016. Watch for STOCKSCH 166.