Bees on a bike: education by the mile

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(Photos courtesy of Community Bees on Bikes)

Kristy Allen and Erin Rupp started Community Bees on Bikes in Minneapolis just this year.

The educational effort aims to give all sorts of people, from high school students to Latin American immigrants, experience with urban beekeeping. And in bike-crazy Minneapolis, they also hope to show that bikes can be used for everyday tasks.

“I’m very passionate about bees and they’re having a really hard time and they’re a very important part of our food system,” said Allen, who also delivers honey in bee-themed clothes on a bike painted like a bee.

Bees are responsible for pollinating about one-third of all human food sources, according to the USDA.

“The whole point of what we’re doing is try to make [bees] more visible and to spread the word that we need to respect and take care of them if we want our food system to remain as bountiful as it is,” Allen said.

So far, Community Bees on Bikes have set up hives at six different sites in Minneapolis, transporting all bees and protective clothes by bike to promote the eco-friendly form of transit.

Bees2.jpgBefore their hives were delivered this spring, The Blake School environmental science students built a 10-by-10 foot fence behind the Minneapolis school. The bees were biked over and installed into their new home to great fanfare from students and staff, said Dion Crushshon, a dean at the school.

“There’s just so much curiosity and intrigue for people, we have elementary kids who are interested up to parents of our high school students,” Crushshon said. “What I’ve really liked about it is that there’s become a multi-generational aspect of it, which is not really common and sometimes hard to pull off in high schools.”

Students have visited the hives behind The Blake School three times this summer, Crushshon said.

“We just put the suits on over our clothes, make sure that we have closed toe shoes on, unlock the gate and go in,” Crushshon said. “[We] pull out the screens, look at the bees up close. We can tell what they’re doing with the nectar, where the babies that will soon be hatched are.”

The visits to the hive by the school’s bee club have been spaced about three weeks apart. The first two times, the bees seemed to be thriving.

“The third time we went we noticed that there was a number of dead bees right in front of the hive,” Crushshon said. “Right now we’re actually in a worried place.”

Massive bee die-offs, have been in the news for the last five or so years. Crushshon said the unfortunate reality that some of their bees have been dying made the students’ lessons in sustainability more real.

“It’s not that you wish it would happen, every aspect you learn something,” Crushshon said. “You learn how tenuous the survival of hives is and why it’s all that important that there are folks who are interested in keeping bees, because they are having trouble on their own.”

The general public can also register for Community Bees on Bikes classes. They even offer a discount for bicyclists.

Although some kids and adults are afraid of honeybees at first, Allen said they transform after they put the beekeepers suit on, “almost like Halloween.”

“There’s no other experience I’ve had of being a part of this really intense world where 50,000 little winged animals are flying all around you and they don’t really care that you’re there,” Allen said. “They’re really busy doing what they’re supposed to do.”

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