Beekeeping society creates some buzz

Photograph courtesy of Ursinus College Beekeeping Society

Skye Gailing

     Some Ursinus students might be afraid of bees, others might only like them for their memes, but junior Johnny Myers and sophomore Andrew McSwiggan think differently. Myers and McSwiggan are the founders of the Ursinus College Beekeeping Society.

     For Myers beekeeping and sustainable farming have been passions for a while. His high school had an organic farm where students could work with livestock and plant trees. Additionally, Myers has a large amount of experience working in the outdoors having volunteered with Habitat for Humanity.

     McSwiggan too has always had a soft spot for bees and noted their ecological importance, “Bees are such an essential part of the environment . . .it’s really saddening how quickly they’re going extinct . . . it’s shocking how much all of these colonies provide for farming and food security as a whole, even outside the realm of honey.”

     Myers saw the potential of Ursinus’ Organic Farm right away: “I heard that Ursinus had an organic farm my freshman year and I thought that the farm was underutilized.  I was upset because we have this awesome resource with plenty of willing students and nothing was going on over there.”

     McSwiggan agreed with this sentiment and was inspired to work on this project by a question: “What if there’s a way we can tackle both of these issues at once?  Nutritious, good quality eating and environmental security.  And that’s where the idea sprung from: both of these facts coming together here.  And I think bees are a really good outlet to do both things.”

     However, it is not just about harvesting tasty honey for this group.  In addition to raising environmental awareness on campus, Myers and McSwiggan are developing an app as part of a honey-delivering service.  To financially support their endeavors, Myers and McSwiggan competed in the U-Imagine Center’s BEAR Innovation Competition this past spring where they won $2,000 for the “Ready, Set, Go” prize.

     Myers explained, “We decided to enter because we put an entrepreneurial spin on the beekeeping.  Our plan and business model was to sell honey to students through a subscription service: every month, we deliver a jar of honey to your address.  This idea is still in Beta.  I would like to do more philanthropy and charity work with the honey produced.”

     The group also has set their sights on increasing their community outreach and engagement, hoping to eventually collaborate with other student organizations to lead events about the environment focused on how we can contribute to slowing climate change and global warming.  And, of course, the society wants to share their love and knowledge of bees with others.

     McSwiggan explained, “You don’t need to be a part of the actual club to make an impact on campus.  If you want to learn anything about how you can keep bees, how you can spread awareness about healthy environmental practices, nutritious eating, just come talk to us.   We’re more than happy to have these discussions, that’s why we’re here.  We’re very passionate about it and we want to make other people passionate about it as well.”

     Myers hopes the Beekeeping Society will serve as a catalyst for student-driven environmental action.

     “Education is [the group’s] most important aspect . . . If I have inspired at least one student and made them an active citizen for the environment, this would have all been worth it,” said Myers.

     When the duo was looking for an advisor to help start their organization, Kate Keppen, who runs the Office of Sustainability, helped connect the students with Will Caverly, a grant-writer in the Advancement Office, who is an avid beekeeper himself.  He is currently finishing his third season as a beekeeper.

     Both Myers and McSwiggan sang their praises for Caverly; Myers called him “the most awesome adult I’ve ever met.”

He went on to say that Caverly is “so informed about beekeeping and what I’ve learned from him is incredibly valuable for the Beekeeping Society. When I graduate, I hope Will brings the same knowledge and energy…to the next generation of students.”

     Caverly genuinely enjoys working with the society and sharing his knowledge with students. He hopes that, despite the distance between campus and the organic farm, more students will visit the hives and see how successful the bees have been under the care of Warren Graham, Jr., who has been working on Ursinus’ farm since 2010.

      According to the group, bees are complicated, semi-domesticated animals with many lessons to teach us.  “There’s a lot of creative things to do with bees . . . they capture the imagination . . . Bees are quite a bit like humans, and that’s why they’re interesting to people,” said Caverly.

     Each member of this beekeeping team emphasized the significance of bees’ communal living.  Caverly even pointed out that “the workers own the means of production . . . the individuals [are] subsumed underneath the group identity.”

     The organization of this communal living is Myers’ favorite part of beekeeping.

     Said Myers, “Bees have a matriarchal structure, organize themselves into equal classes, and work exclusively for the common good. If there are too many bees living and there isn’t enough food, bees will decide to either starve or find another hive- all for the betterment of the hive. To put it in Will’s terms, bees are communists, vegans, and feminists. Humans- take note.”

     Despite the emphasis on the importance of honeybees, the Beekeeping Society is well aware of the importance of taking care of bees native to this area.

     Caverly explained, “Honeybees are only half of the equation. The other half is that we have native bees that are equally, if not more, important.  The club actually has language in the charter about how we have to take care of native bees.  We know very little about native bees.  They tend to be solitary, they don’t do honey, so they’re not agricultural in the same way that honeybees are.  I want people to know that learning about and creating a habitat for native bees is equally as important as saving the honeybees and saving our agricultural system.”

     The Ursinus College Beekeeping Society has just received a shipment of parts for their own Flow Hive system, a product created by two Australian entrepreneurs, which the team found online.

     According to Myers, “The Flow Hive makes beekeeping easy, friendly, and time-efficient…  [It is] an automated system that has pre-created hexagons which the bees can fill with honey.  With the turn of a lever, the hexagons break apart without disturbing the bees, which lets the honey drip through.”

     This technology should make beekeeping more accessible for beginners and less aggravating for the bees.

     The Beekeeping Society has been making great strides in bringing beekeeping to Ursinus. The Beekeeping Society hopes to share their passion and knowledge with the rest of the community as they continue to grow as beekeepers and educators.