University of Richmond launches beekeeping program; bee hives will address ecological concerns, create living lab on campus

June 21, 2017

The University of Richmond has installed two honeybee hives on campus as a sustainable and educational response to bee populations’ global decline.

In Virginia and throughout the world, honeybees are in a state of crisis known as the Colony Collapse Disorder, which has the potential to influence the stability of local and global food-systems. UR’s beekeeping initiative responds to this decline by engaging faculty, staff and students in research opportunities.

“Maintaining working productive hives at UR will allow students to observe and work with a living laboratory, which will demonstrate the interconnected roles of individual species in our local ecosystem,” said Kirstin Berben, biology laboratories manager.

Research possibilities include the observation of hive behavior and investigation of environmental conditions that affect the species, she said.  

Biology and environmental studies students will maintain a pollinator garden that includes apple and peach trees, as well as shrubs and flowers to attract bees and butterflies.

“We want to rethink the way we engage our students with these issues and encourage them to develop solutions that we can then pilot,” Rob Andrejewski, sustainability director, said. “There is a level of awareness and critical thinking that goes into it that helps students steward our land, which leads to the thriving of plants and animals.” 

Berben and Joe Essid, who oversees UR’s writing center, will serve as Richmond’s beekeepers. Essid practices sustainable land management on his property in Goochland County and has kept bees for 16 years.

“I think it’s important for institutions like the University of Richmond to become a model to other community organizations because the crisis is great,” Essid said. “The more community hives we have and the more exposure people have to honeybees, the more aware they’ll be about what each of us can do in our own backyards. Afterall, a third of our food comes from the help of honeybees.”

The hives are between the Wilton Center by Cannon Memorial Chapel and the steam plant.

The beekeeping initiative is sponsored by the Department of Biology, the Office for Sustainability, Dining Services and the School of Professional and Continuing Studies.

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