Urban Beekeeping Project Keeps Co-op Buzzing

Beekeeping at Ypsilanti Food Co-op's Honeybee Alley.

The Local Honey Project is an urban beekeeping project run by the Ypsilanti Food Co-op (YFC) in SE Michigan. Our Co-op takes seriously the Seven Cooperative Principles and they guide every aspect of how we do business. From the high-efficiency lighting and heat in our store to the use of in-line hot water heaters, from the solar array which powers our on-site Bakery to the landscaping outside that filters storm-water, the Ypsi Food Co-op shows by its actions that we care about our community and the environment. These actions are guided by Cooperative Principle #7, Concern for Community.

Principle 7 articulates our responsibility to participate in the environmental protection of our communities. The principle carries an implied imperative of working for sustainable development of communities, as well. At the Ypsi Food Co-op, one way we work to protect our environment and enhance our community is through the Local Honey Project. Honeybees are critical to food production because it is through pollination that many fruits & vegetables are formed. It is said that honeybees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food on our plates. Without bees, our ability to feed ourselves would be severely threatened.

YFC’s Local Honey Project had a total of 30 volunteers in 2013 and over 400 volunteer hours were given by YFC’s dedicated bee-lovers! The project is led by Co-op Beekeeper and Marketing Coordinator, Lisa Bashert. Volunteer beekeepers care for our colonies at three hive sites, help harvest Co-op Urban Honey, learn and teach about bees, staff information tables at local events, care for our Honeybee Alley nectar garden, and are active in all aspects of our beekeeping enterprise. Several have gone on to become “bee stewards” and entrepreneurs, caring for their own hives, urban and rural. Last year, we bottled up over 70 pounds of comb honey, our first harvest, which was sold in the Co-op!

Through this project, we reached out to our community in many ways this year:

In the spring, we held a workshop on Basic Beekeeping at the Growing Hope Center, one of our “bee yards.” We hosted school children in the Co-op’s Honeybee Alley, a nectar garden located adjacent to the Co-op building.

Ypsilanti's honeybee parade-goers

In the summer, students from Eastern Michigan University helped beautify the Honeybee Alley by planting, raking leaves, and trimming herbs. We made presentations at the local library and at our Annual General Membership Meeting. During the annual Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, our volunteers marched in the parade in festive honeybee attire (see picture), and the local Garden Club tour featured the Honeybee Alley, where Beekeepers sat on the bench in the Alley and told “bee stories,” and offered ideas for bee-friendly plantings to attendees.

In the fall, the Co-op was part of the first city-wide Festival of the Honeybee planned by Ypsi Melissa, a bee stewardship effort led by a key Co-op volunteer. As part of the festival, 30 riders visited YFC’s Honeybee Alley plus the hives at Growing Hope on the “Bike 2 Bees” tour. The same weekend, volunteers offered honey tasting and face-painting at the Homegrown Festival of local food. The Local Honey Project was invited to a fall Science Café at the University of Michigan, as well. This exciting and challenging group included many former/present university faculty and students.

In 2014, we were devastated by the loss of all our hives in the “snowpocalypse” of 2013. This year has been one of re-building and focusing even more on raising locally-adapted, survivor hives with northern queens. Along with catching swarms and getting splits from survivor hives, we are also raising our own queen bees and participating in the new Northern Bee Network, as well as local bee clubs like A2B2 (Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers) and SEMBA (SE Michigan Beekeepers Association). LHP participated in the second annual Festival of the Honeybee, in statewide beekeeping events, and the Homegrown Festival. We did not harvest honey in 2014, due to our crop of new honeybee colonies, but we look forward to more in 2015!

Clearly, Ypsi Food Co-op’s Local Honey Project has a wide outreach, spreading the word about Concern for Community in the sweetest possible way!

Republished with permission from Ypsilanti Food Co-op.