Plans to put a beehive in every Berkeley middle school

Beekeepers Anthony Fontaine (L) and Eric Rocher inspect their new hives at King Middle School’s Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley on Dec. 5, 2012. Fontaine built the hive out of recycled woods. They will manage the hive for the school garden. Photo: Mary Flaherty

A new initiative, spearheaded by Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard Project, aims to put beehives in the city’s three middle schools by next spring.

King Middle School’s one-acre garden, home to the Edible Schoolyard, has already jumped in having acquired a hive of Russian bees six weeks ago, under a program the organizers named Bee Experimental Education in Schools (BEES).

The idea, said Edible Schoolyard Director Kyle Cornforth, is to extend King’s existing hands-on gardening and cooking education to include learning about pollination.

“It’s so important for the kids to understand how many of the foods we eat and enjoy could not be possible without bees and other pollinators,” said Cornforth. Bees play an important role in producing more than 100 crops grown in the United States, according to the BEES literature, as well as pollinating plants that animals graze on. The recent problem of Colony Collapse Disorder has made understanding pollination all the more important.

Edible Schoolyard Bees in the Garden from The Edible Schoolyard Project on Vimeo.

The Edible Schoolyard has hosted both native bees and those from other local hives in the past, said Cornforth, who’s worked with the garden on and off for 12 years. So King students have already had lessons on bees, catching them with nets and observing them (watch the short video above for a taste). In one lesson, shown on the Schoolyard’s website, seventh graders take a history walk through the garden  when they study American civilizations. They learn about New World crops, such as chocolate, and about how Mayans cultivated bees and used the honey to sweeten a cocoa drink.

Next week, Cornforth said, seventh-grade students will study dead bees under microscopes, observing pollen on their legs and learning about reproduction.

Mixing thousands of bees with hundreds of kids naturally raises safety concerns.

“We thought about every possible problem,” Cornforth said. “And we feel really prepared.”

Catching bees with nets at the Edible Schoolyard

The district’s nurse, Rikki Moreno, trained garden staff on severe allergic reactions. They learned how to use an EpiPen, a shot of adrenaline, in case of such a reaction. Several EpiPens are stored in safety kits throughout  the garden. The kits include instructions on handling both serious and mild allergic reactions.

There is only one student on campus with a known serious allergy to bees. The student’s mother, Pam Gray, said her son, Will’s, allergy, was discovered only last summer, when he went into extreme anaphylactic shock after a bee sting in Oregon.

“The garden staff were highly responsive in terms of dealing with a (safety) plan for Will, and initiating training for all the garden staff,” Gray said.

Despite her son’s lethal allergy, Gray, supports the new BEES program. She has volunteered with the Edible Schoolyard over the seven years her three children have attended King.

“The garden and the kitchen have been an important piece of what’s made middle school good for my kids,” Gray said.

“I was hearing from people that I should protest (the bee program), but I have to says that that was never something I considered doing,” she said.  “All of Berkeley is one gigantic garden. Beehives are kept throughout the city.”

“Hive collapse is a critical environmental issue, and I really support this (BEES program) being a part of the garden.”

The hive was no sudden decision.

“We’ve talked about getting bees for years,” Cornforth said. Then one day a school neighbor, and beekeeper, who had long admired the school’s garden, walked through the door, saying, “I really want to put a beehive in your garden.”

That was Anthony Fontaine, who calls his work with bees, “not a business, more a personal adventure.” Fontaine and his beekeeping partner, Eric Rocher (both French), met working in the kitchen of Chez Panisse. Rocher, a former apiarist, taught Fontaine about bees, Fontaine builds the hives, and together they manage several in Berkeley yards, three on the roof of Chez Panisse, and now the one in the Edible Schoolyard.

The hive at King Middle School is tucked away at the north end of the garden, halfway down the hillside toward the track. For the safety of both student-gardeners and bees, the hive is enclosed by a rustic wooden fence. Photo: Anthony Fontaine

Come spring, the students can gather around the new hive, which Fontaine made from recycled redwood, and watch the bees at work through a clear panel.

The hive is tucked away at the north end of the garden, halfway down the hillside toward the track. For the safety of both student-gardeners and bees, the hive is enclosed by a rustic wooden fence.  But for demonstrations, one side of the fence lifts away.

Cornforth said she hopes to extend BEES to Willard and Longfellow middle schools by spring, and is in talks with those principals now.

She said installation of the hive at King cost about $150, and paying the beekeepers for management costs another $100 per month.

To that end, the Berkeley Whole Foods Market is sponsoring a fundraiser to help fund and expand the program. The store will donate 5% of its sales on Wednesday, Dec. 12 to BEES.

“Given Colony Collapse Disorder, and the importance of pollination as an area of education, we are delighted to be able to support this initiative,” said Jim Hallock, Community Relations Team Leader at Whole Foods Market Berkeley. “It adds a whole new dimension to an already great program.”

Whole Foods estimates the event could bring in at least $5,000, which, Cornforth said, would cover the three schools’ costs for a little over a year.

Katrina Heron: New director of edible schoolyard project [10.26.12]
School edible programs get reprieve from the feds [06.14.12]
Berkeley district votes to fund at-risk edible programs [04.12.12]
After Berkeley, school lunches will never be the same [02.02.11]
Berkeley Bites: Kyle Cornforth [08.16.10]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • Guest

    >cross post
    *astral high five*

  • The Sharkey

    I think you’re misinterpreting the comments.

    I like the idea of a hive at every school. What I don’t like is the idiotic hysteria surrounding things like peanut butter and wooden play structures, both of which have been banned at most schools in California. What bothers me in this situation is the lack of consistency – if we’re going to be hysterical and ban everything that might possibly be dangerous, what are we doing introducing thousands of bees into a school where at least one student has a deadly bee allergy?

  • The Sharkey

    Amazingly, Berkeley continues to change and evolve. It did not crystallize when you were 14 years old into some immutable combination of crusty hippiism and ironic hipsterdom that will forever be unchanging. Alice Waters isn’t immortal. Not everyone has worked at Chez Panisse. Some people like the changes that are happening. Others do not.

    It’s fine to disagree, but telling someone they ought to leave town if they don’t share your opinion is a level of intolerance that strikes me as being rather un-Berkeley.

  • Guest

    > “I am not asking “Howie Mencken” to leave”

    > “telling someone they ought to leave town”

    It’s called reading comprehension folks!

  • Mbfarrel

    What’s wrong with this picture? Why limit yourselves to Berkeley?

  • Mbfarrel

    If my child had a severe or possibly fatal allergy, they would carry an EpiPen, and certainly before middle school know how and when to use it. Focusing on a beehive at King is myopic. There are so many other opportunities to be stung. Unless, of course, the kid always stays indoors.

  • CarolynS

    I did read the article. Comforth is the director of the Edible Schoolyard and thought this was a nice idea. That’s fine. My question was whether any experts in education and curriculum and so on had made any serious assessment of the educational value of this project.

  • Guest

    As the Guest who sparked this confused exchange (not the other Guest), I will just point out that Howie’s reply above supports my point about his crankiness. I don’t see why he needs to leave B’ley, and I don’t think other Guest said that he should, but I do think that the scenario Howie proposes is highly implausible and his tone is intemperate.

  • Joshua A

    I went to the open house/plant sale for the Edible Schoolyard last spring and I was really impressed. I went on a tour. The tour was led by a younger student who was being mentored by an older student. The tour guide was obviously still learning how to do public speaking/interacting with adults in a semi-formal setting, but she did great. I was also super impressed with how they used the garden to make traditional subjects more real to kids. The student talked about how when they studied the silk road/spice trade routes, they grew and cooked with those very same spices that early traders sought. I always liked the idea of kids learning about the food so they develop healthy eating habits, but I became a real believer when I saw all the spin off benefits. It sounds like they will do the same thing with bees. Good luck!

  • Mbfarrel

    Actually, telling “others” to leave is very Berkeley.

  • Howie Mencken

    “…limited to no more than 3 comments per day…”

    Yo Theo…I can just imagine all the useful suggestions you must have for increasing your happiness by limiting my freedoms. But danged if there isn’t always a “small hand full” disturbing the serene sleep of the oblivious?

    When it comes to abusing the truth, I’m among the kindest posters here.

  • Rosie

    This is such a great idea. Not only do we (as adults) need to relearn the importance of bees and their honey in our lives and ecosystem, but learning it at a young age in school, is even better! Plus, with the rate allergies are affecting us these days, having more local honey sources can really help mitigate them naturally.

  • Howie Mencken

    It’s my home town…since 1950.

  • Howie Mencken

    I relent. This is the only way some of these kids will ever get B’s in school.

  • Mbfarrel

    Limit posts? Traffic is money.

  • Guest’s guest

    Honey doesn’t help allergies! Honeybees collect larger, stickier, easier to collect pollen, rather than the smaller, lighter, wind-borne pollen which cause our allergies.

  • Guest’s guest’s guest

    What if our ecosystems are being damaged by this craze in beekeeping?
    Honeybees are not native to this area, but are now being linked to the significant decrease in our native bumblebee populations and many other insect pollinators.
    Is honey as important as pollination?
    We may soon be left with a monoculture of disease-resistant-super-honey-bees as pollinators.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. ”

  • The Sharkey

    Actually, telling “others” to leave is very Berkeley.

    You know, you’re right. I really ought to quite pretending otherwise.

    Tolerance may be an ideal in Berkeley, but it ain’t the reality.

  • The Sharkey

    Being cranky is very Berkeley.

  • remi

    How I wish you were educated about bees this way when you were young so you’d know about them better. You’re a perfect example on why experience is a better teacher than books.

  • berkeleymom

    Most people won’t know if they’re allergic to bees until they’re stung. Two to 5 percent of the population are allergic–so a reasonable estimate would be several kids (not counting parents and staff) are allergic at each school. Like, LIFE-THREATENING allergic. While the idea of introducing nature and life-cycle related programs at school is laudable, and a real benefit for kids who are sheltered from such things, I certainly hope they have effective emergency plans. My personal experience is that the schools fail miserably on that count. If you keep bees, you will get stung. Jeez. I hope the district has deep pockets, cause Berkeleyites love to sue.

  • stmichalespromise

    you are right on! We NEED bees to survive, they are essential to our survival. Living in harmony with nature benefits everyone. GMO/Monsanto will kill us off if anything, not the bees.

  • Beatriz Moisset

    Honey bees are not native to this country, therefore they are not important to our ecosystems. On the contrary, they may compete with native pollinators. They also benefit some introduced weeds in some cases. Native pollinators are the ones that are beneficial to our ecosystems, and I don’t see anything in this article about protecting them.