There will soon be a new buzz on campus, and this time the source will be the real thing: Loyola is getting honeybees.
“We, here at Loyola, are trying to establish a healthy bee colony,” said Jared Brocklehurst, 21, a junior environmental science major. “We want it to be an educational experience for other students.”
As part of their Solutions To Environmental Problems (STEP) course, Brocklehurst and three other students — Brittney Rooney, Kelly Hof and Leah Weiss — were required to undertake a semesterlong project that dealt with food systems and possible solutions. According to Loyola’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability, the STEP: Food Systems course looks at the current issues of how our food is grown, processed, packaged and disposed. It then looks at how these processes can be done differently and more sustainably —cutting back on pesticides, increasing local food production and reducing food waste by composting.
In lieu of recent bee colony losses, Brocklehurst said the group chose to focus on bees and their significant impact on agriculture.
Since 2006, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agency, has reported an annual 33 percent loss in the bee population. This significant colony loss has been labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and researchers are scrambling to find the cause. According to the ARS, bees are critical to the health of the U.S. environment and economy: Bee pollination accounts for more than $15 billion in increased crop value annually.
“The widespread deaths of honeybees all over our country should send everyone a red flag that environmental conditions are not good,” said Brittney Rooney, 21, a senior political science major. “Even if we cannot see the effects of the pollution now, the bees are letting us know that the effects are coming.”
“There are two goals driving our project,” Rooney said. “First, pollination. Urban settings are not always the friendliest allies for bees, and we want to provide a safe habitat for bees and be a steward for them. Second, education. Many people do not realize the important role that bees play in their lives.”
Their idea was presented to The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) — a fund created to help environmental projects on campus — and Brocklehurst said they received $2,400 for the honeybee project. According to Brocklehurst, this money will cover the purchase of three hives, all of the necessary equipment, the bee suits and other reference materials on beekeeping.
Brocklehurst said the group plans on picking up the hives from a bee sanctuary in Indiana during the first week of April. While they had hoped to get the bees sooner, he said they are waiting for warmer weather because “moving them in winter would be a huge stress to the bees.”
Another reason they are waiting is that a location for the bee apiary — the area where the bees and their hives are kept — has yet to be finalized. To ensure the safety of the hives, Brocklehurst said he hopes to place the hives on a campus building rooftop.
“There are a few buildings on campus that have rooftop access and that are green roofs, meaning we would be able to plant various plants for the bees,” Brocklehurst said. “However, we have to be cautious because every department [of the university] has different jurisdiction over different buildings. So, it is up to the specific department on whether they want the hives on their building.”
According to Brocklehurst, the bees will not be used for research, but the project is more about the health and integrity of the colony on an urban campus. As a result of having the bees, he hopes to aid Loyola and the Rogers Park community in urban agriculture pollination.
Once a location is set and the hives are established, Brocklehurst said students will be encouraged to tour the hives and take part in educational demonstrations and teachings. He said it is important to teach Loyola students the usefulness of bees, organic bee harvesting, what humans may be doing to fuel the disappearance of bee colonies and how to counteract it.
Brocklehurst said the group chose to focus on bees and their significant impact on agriculture because of recent losses of bee colonies.
For students who are allergic to bees, Brocklehurst said that they are taking this into consideration, but that he is not worried that the bees will cause students harm.
“[During] the summer and spring months you would be hard pressed to find vegetation on campus that is not occupied by a busy bee,” Brocklehurst said. “So, adding a small amount of honeybees into the environment will not be an issue.”
Urban beekeeping is quickly gaining ground in cities around the globe and at several U.S. university campuses, as studies begin to show that urban bees may be healthier than those in rural environments. Noah Wilson-Rich–a biologist at Tufts University in Boston and 2012 TEDx presenter–reported that urban bees have a 20 percent higher survival rate and produce 10 percent more honey.
For Rambler honey-lovers, however, don’t expect Loyola’s bees to produce honey right away. Brocklehurst said it could take three years before the newly established hives make enough honey for campus-wide enjoyment.