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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  • withak30

    At first I thought this was part of some elaborate new punishment scheme.

  • jujuwiz

    Seriously? You can’t bring peanut butter to school, but you can bring BEES? Oh wait, I missed the fence put up for the safety of the students. They’ll totally stay on their side.

  • talon

    I wonder if the Mayans put a beehive in every school and backyard just before their society collapsed?
    Please wake up and notice that bees are dying of diseases, which rapidly reproduce within honey bee colonies and their Varroa mites, but is killing off all our other insect pollinators.

  • bgal4

    My child was injured on the playground at MLK 10 years ago. He was unconscious on the ground from passing out, a student pulled hard on his hoodie causing neck burns, the pressure on the carotid arteries was sufficient to stop blood flow. Students ran to get yard duty staff, when the staff arrived my son was coming to, there was plenty of blood from a knocked out tooth and deep cut to his lip. The yard duty had students walk him to the office. The staff made more poor judgments, and when I was contacted I explained I did not have a car, could they please send an ambulance or police car to transport him to Kaiser. The answer was no. The school mishandled the emergency from start to finish. My requests to the principal for retraining regarding medical emergencies and a request to teachers for students to explain to students the dangers of the “hoodie game” were not honored.

  • We are really looking forward to the BEES, it will be a really wonderful experience for the students and as some one who lives across the street I’m looking forward to seeing the bees at work in the garden. The Edible school yard is truly a Berkeley gem, and has dramatically improved the culture at King.

  • Biker 94703

    Bees will help.

  • Anonymous

    The best public school-related non sequitur blog comment rant ever! LOVE IT!

  • bgal4

    The school capacity to manage to medical emergencies when increasing risk is relevant.

  • The Sharkey

    I had the same thought. Banning things that are “dangerous” like wooden play structures that might give kids splinters, but the introducing a bee hive to a schoolyard? Huh? Where’s the consistency?

  • Anonymous

    Apologies! I didn’t understand the connection since it wasn’t explicit in the first text, so I thought it was meant to be irony or satire or something since there are lots of random rants in forums like this. I completely misunderstood!

  • bgal4

    I am serious about BUSD’s history of covering up failures rather than correcting and owning them. I have family with lethal nut allergies, scary stuff.

  • The Sharkey

    It seemed pretty clear to me.

    They’re introducing a hive filled with hundreds of bees into a school where at least one student suffers from a potentially deadly bee allergy. Unless they are fully prepared to handle medical emergencies, things could go really bad really fast.

  • guest

    Sounds like a really cool program (and I say that as someone who is allergic to bee stings). Bees are everywhere; the staff is probably better trained now to deal w any stings than they were before.

  • bgal4, how recently did this incident take place?

  • bgal4

    not recently, 9 years ago.

  • melissa

    no kidding! I hope they have a ton of CURRENT epi-pens! and keep them current! otherwise, I promise you there will be tragedy…

  • melissa

    I completely agree. This is fraught with potential serious problems.

  • name

    Relax. It’s in a huge garden where there are already, presumably, hundreds of bees. Watch the video.

  • BHS Guest

    Serious. And obsessed.

  • emraguso

    Welcome, Mary Flaherty, to Berkeleyside! Hoping to read more of your work on the site.

  • n

    There was a beehive on the King campus when I was a student there many years ago. It was not fun having to sneak past it to get to school, and it didn’t end well for the bees, or the student who eventually tripped and fell into it. There must be *someone* still working there who remembers that.

  • bob2322

    stupid hippies

  • Sarcasmisgood

    BEES is such a good idea, buts its just not enough. Imagine each local grocery store with a honey bee hive between the floral department and vegetable section? What better way to learn about pollination and how our food is produced?

  • Kevin

    I am an educator, I am allergic to bees, and I think this is a HORRIBLE idea! When I was in elementary school I was stung by a bee and almost died before finally making it to the emergency room. Even as an adult, I tend to get very scared when I find myself in close proximity to bees, whether I am carrying an Epipen or not. Even if I used an Epipen after being stung by a bee, I would still feel it necessary to get to an emergency room as soon as possible. What if the Epipen doesn’t work for some reason? Introducing bees to every middle school in Berkeley, in my opinion, is a very bad idea, and completely unnecessary.

  • bgal4


  • CarolynS

    Pointless, cute, expensive, dangerous, trendy, almost no educational value. Perfect Berkeley project. The kids could learn about bees in many other ways, and I am not sure there is really all that much that kids really need to know about bees in any case. If they want to dissect a dead bee, they could probably find one somehwere.

  • lologb

    I am astonished at all of the fear of these comments. Bees are everywhere. Having hives at school does not make you more or less likely to be stung. This is a wonderful way to bring bees back. We NEED bees for our FOOD. What better way to educate kids about bees and what they do for us than to have them see it happen. BTW I am allergic too.

  • Howie Mencken

    Hearing the kids yell at each other at lunch time in any Berkeley school yard will convince you that the vast majority of these kids are already quite familiar with the birds and the bees (and organic salad greens) . Yet basic english grammar eludes many of them.

    Perhaps BUSD knows something we don’t, about future careers as farm workers?

  • berkparent

    This is a totally unnecessary project. What about putting a MATH LEARNING CENTER with a Math Recovery Teacher in every BUSD school? THe proficiency of the students is deplorable! Please
    start thinking in terms of the real education the children need in BUSD schools. THe edible garden
    is thriving, no need to keep adding to it. Start a program of MATH Enrichment!!!!

  • Howie Mencken

    Agreed! Our kids being over fed and under served at the same time!

  • Howie Mencken

    unstable beehive + school yard x earthquake = evacuation of kids / swarming bees

  • Neighbor

    Clearly you have no idea of how a child is educated. Ever heard of “science”?

  • Neighbor

    Cool: hatred for kids now! That’s exactly the kind of attitude we need more of around here. (/sarcasm)

  • Neighbor

    Berkeleyside comments: the most bitter place on earth.

  • Howie Mencken

    Adults who can recognize the useless gestures that pass for education in Berkeley, that’s what our kids need more of! All the neighborly fuzzy warm feel good projects BUSD cooks up haven’t given them the math and reading skills they need.

  • Howie Mencken

    What’s that other name for a bitter pill? Oh yeah…truth.

  • guest

    I wonder how my Berkeley High graduate neighbor girl got into Pomona and boys got into Brown without decent math and reading skills. Hmmmmm….

  • Guest

    Have you noticed that your Berkeleyside posts are becoming increasingly cranky? This one is the strangest yet – did you watch a disaster flick last night?

  • CarolynS

    I have heard of science, and I am pretty sure kids can be educated in science even without a beehive at their school. And I wonder if anyone has really made any serious assessment of the educational value of this project versus other projects or the cost factors.

  • Neighbor

    From the article:

    “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.” ”

    And also:

    “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.”

    Honestly. Did you even read the article?
    You might be interested to know that many Berkeley public school parents LOVE our schools.
    Also, many of us are excited about our children learning with hands-on experiences. Book learning is not all there is to education, you know. The “3 R’s” are integral, but many other skills are needed to be an adult!

  • Howie Mencken

    My apologies but I was assuming a basic level of math. Not a safe assumption. I’ll explain: The beehives in the school yard get knocked over by the earthquake. The bees fly out into the kids being evacuated INTO the school yard.

    (+: to add, x=multiply, =: equals, /: divided by)

    Cranky is not the right word. “Disgusted” (that’s it!) with with the smarmy crap that fascinates many of us. That self congratulatory wheeze of accomplishment which accompanies Bezerkley’s empty gestures I find alternately hilarious and infuriating.

    If Swift had lived in Berkeley, Gulliver would have never have left town.

  • Howie Mencken

    Transferred from Prospect Sierra?

  • Guest

    I always wonder, with you folks that hate Berkeley so much: why are you here? Why not just leave “Berzerkeley” to the bizzaros, and go to the sort of place you might prefer?

  • guest

    No. Why? Would that be cheating? All three of them spent their entire high school education at Berkeley High.

  • berk parent

    this is the typical response of self righteous people in Berkeley. Because Howie has a difference of opinion and may have some valid points, because Guest dosen’t agree, he instead wonders why Howie still lives in Berkeley…perhaps Guest needs to be reminded that in a democratic, free society all people can share living space and have differing opinions. I would say to Guest to learn to be openminded….

  • Howie Mencken

    I’ve always lived here. You’re the “Guest” I’m waiting on to leave. “Berzerkeley” is a transient phase about to run its course. There have been many. Ask the Ohlone.

  • Howie Mencken

    “All three of them spent their entire high school education at Berkeley High.”

    So the they were spared our middle school education?

  • guest

    Did you get your education in Berkeley schools?

    Exactly as I thought.

  • Guest

    While I can understand why my question comes off that way, I am not asking “Howie Mencken” to leave, just wondering why, if he has such strong negative feelings about this place, he continues to torture himself by living here.

    Statements such as:

    “That self congratulatory wheeze of accomplishment which accompanies Bezerkley’s empty gestures I find alternately hilarious and infuriating.”


    “If Swift had lived in Berkeley, Gulliver would have never have left town.”,
    seem so derogatory to my hometown. Constantly putting down this town, our history (my heritage), and our citizens, does not inspire the comaraderie that you, berk parent, are suggesting. While I do aspire to such an attitude, (and feel that I achieve it quite often, actually), sometimes I have to wonder: is it possible to work with certain people? Or are they only trying to break down and destroy things that I care about?

  • TheoXMachina

    I think Guest said that because he is disgusted by the small handful of Berkeleyside commenters who spew out hatred all day. Howie Mencken and Completely_Serious are the most offensive offenders.

    It is pathetic that the two of them have nothing better to do than to spend every day thinking up new ways of expressing their hatred of Berkeley. They should get a life and find some better way of spending their time.

    Berkeleyside comments would be much more valuable if each commenter were limited to no more than 3 comments per day, so the comments were not dominated by a few people who are so angry that they are willing to enter comments endlessly.

    By the way, Berk parent, if you dislike self-righteous people in Berkeley, you should make that fact known in responses to Howie Mencken and Completely_Serious, who are certainly two of the most self-righteous commenters on this site.