More Than a Hive Mind

The Urban Youth Beekeeping Club teaches students the ins and outs of caring for pollinators

For many kids, the summer months are nothing short of bliss. The long days provide extended hours of sunlight, not to mention freedom from the classroom. But taking a break from school doesn’t mean children have to take a hiatus from learning. In terms of studying the environment, it might be the best chance they get all year, especially with opportunities available such as the Urban Youth Beekeeping Club.

For almost 40 years, Prince’s Charities of Canada (PCC) has applied the Prince of Wales’ core philanthropic interests — expanding education and environmental awareness — in communities across our country, by working with local charities and foundations. Last summer, they received funding from Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) to start the Urban Youth Beekeeping Club at Northlands.

In 2015, Jessica Bentley-Jacobs, PCC’s Director of Marketing and Business Development, along with the Northlands Agricultural Society, first brainstormed the idea of the free program. By 2016, they had their plan in place and received ECF funding that June, just in time to kick off its inaugural run.

Bentley-Jacobs wanted the program to go beyond the classroom so that kids were learning first-hand “all the elements of beekeeping — taking care of the hives into fall and wrapping them for winter — to see the whole process through.”

Led by local bee expert Dustin Bajer, last year two-dozen 11- to 19-year-olds participated in hive building and honey harvesting, including field trips from Northlands’ bee farm to visit honey and candle-making factories, with a focus on developing entrepreneurship and leadership skills.

Parents say their children leave the program with more confidence and better social skills, which of course is a bonus. But Bentley-Jacobs says the main intention of the program is to be a point of entry to the greater idea of global food sustainability, and the important role that pollinators play.

“Not all pollinators are bees, and not all bees have hives,” she says. “Bats and other insects pollinate too, and collectively they pollinate about a third of our food. We want to show kids, especially in
urban areas, the vital role pollinators play in the functioning of our ecosystem, and the impact they have on our lives.”

While there’s a limit on the number of participants and hives Northlands can host, PCC wants to expand to other provinces, duplicating the model with groups across the country. The goal is to create a connection between nature and urban youth wherever they can, all based on the successful pilot program in Edmonton.

“Quite simply, it wouldn’t have happened without ECF’s grant,” Jacobs-Bentley says. “They were very supportive throughout the entire process, but most importantly they allowed us to test the model — to know it would work. We asked ourselves: ‘Would young people come? Is this something they’re interested in?’ The answer is yes, and we wouldn’t have known that without ECF. ”