Penn State Beekeepers Club And The Quest To #SaveTheBees
We all know the hashtag #SaveTheBees as a meme that has infiltrated the internet and taken Twitter by storm. We’ve even seen students at home football games hanging signs advocating for the little guys. But why do the bees need saving? How can we save the bees? And why should we care about the dwindling populations of the stinging, buzzing insects?
One Happy Valley institution, the Penn State Beekeepers club, takes these questions and their answers seriously. Former Penn State student Tori Triolo founded the Beekeeper’s Club after taking a class on the subject — Beekeeping 101. Triolo’s passion for bees wasn’t satisfied by just one class. She wanted to spread her love for the creatures to others and find other bee-lovers like herself. So in 2013, Triolo’s sophomore year at Penn State, she decided to make her dream a reality and set out to create a Beekeepers Club.
Unfortunately, the club faced several setbacks along the way involving issues related to feasibility and safety, and the start date was delayed. But finally, in the fall of 2015, after two long years of tireless effort, the club was cleared and made official. Though Triolo only got to enjoy the club for a year before graduating, she left it in good hands. Today the group has around 150 members and a dedicated executive board committed to carrying out her vision.
“Beekeeping is kind of a hard hobby to have in the middle of Pennsylvania,” Andrew Buzzelli, the club’s public relations chair, said. “I mean, 75 percent of the time we’re here its winter, and if you open up a hive then all of the bees will die. So when we get one of those warm, summer-like days in the fall, we’ll go out.”
The club’s honeybee hives are located near the baseball field at the Morning Star Solar Home facility. Whenever a pleasant day graces Happy Valley, the group sends a quick message out in its GroupMe and rallies the club members. Those who are interested in taking the day trip then drive out to the site and suit up. While they’re there, they receive a briefing on the different parts of the hive, the roles of each bee, and a few safety tips before they’re released to play with the insects. If they’re lucky, they might even get a taste of the honey.
Former club president Grace Billy loves the group because it gives students the chance to engage in a hobby they probably wouldn’t experience on their own.
“I think a lot of people in college are interested in saving the bees, but obviously we don’t have the funds or the resources to allow everyone to do that. So it’s a great way for people to get involved,” she said.
For Billy, the club presents the opportunity to teach others about the nature and status of bees in simpler terms. She likes to think of the club as a bridge between research and consumers.
“They hear the quote, ‘Bees are dying at an alarming rate,’ and they want to know what that’s about. We’re here to teach them that,” Billy said.
And why exactly are bees dying at an alarming rate? Their decline is believed to be caused by a combination several factors, though little is known for sure.
You may have heard of the term colony collapse disorder, which is a buzzword a lot of media outlets like to throw around. In essence, colony collapse disorder refers to the sudden mass disappearance of the majority of worker bees in a colony. Without these worker bees, the hive cannot survive and eventually all the inhabitants die out.
However, a researcher and professor here at Penn State, Christina Grozinger, claims this isn’t really what’s killing honeybees at an alarming rate. Instead, it’s a combination of various factors. These factors include things like varroa mites, pesticides, pathogens, reduced nutrition, and extreme fluctuations in winter temperatures that damage the bee’s immune system.
But what can we do to save the bees? There are several ways to contribute to the bee-saving effort — the majority of which simply involve living a more sustainable life.
The Beekeeper’s Club offers the following tips to get involved in #SavingTheBees:
- Plant native species of flowers and plants.
- Welcome weeds like clovers and dandelions in your yard or garden.
- Avoid applying pesticides in daytime/foraging hours.
- Buy pesticide-free fruits and vegetables at local farmer’s markets.
- Report swarms to local beekeepers who can remove them properly.
Club President Sam Anawalt wants to set the record straight when it comes to bees. He feels that honeybees often get a bad rap, and are often confused with wasps and yellow jackets. In his opinion, honeybees are a fairly friendly creature — so long as they’re handled properly.
“It’s a weird day if someone gets stung [at the hives],” he said. “As long as you’re moving carefully and handling bees with care, they’re real friendly.”
Anawalt has been a member of the club since his freshman year and is the first to admit that he knew nothing about bees when he came here.
“I stumbled upon the club at the involvement fair and it spiraled from there and now I’m the president,” Anawalt said.
He’s aware that a lot of the club’s members likely come from the popularity of the #SaveTheBees meme, and he welcomes it. For him, the memes simply serve the purpose of getting the message out there. Even though the memes sometimes spread misinformation, he’s glad it at least attracts people to the subject of beekeeping.
And despite its name, the Beekeepers Club doesn’t focus solely on working with bees. It recently teamed up with EcoAction and the Student Farm Club to help organize several events.
When the Beekeepers Club was founded, the format simply alternated between a combination of lecture and beekeeping activity. Members first learned about the ins-and-outs of beekeeping, and then had the opportunity to go out to the hives and see the bees themselves. As the club grew and developed, its leaders began to incorporate more general sustainability work.
Earlier this year, club members had the opportunity to work with the Sustainability Institute’s tailgate ambassadors program to teach people about proper recycling methods. They’ve also taken time to meet with elementary-aged students to teach them about sustainability and beekeeping. They’re even hoping to set up a program that will include a trip to Park Forest Elementary School, where they’ll teach students about saving the bees and living more sustainable lives.
If you’re interested in joining the club yourself, it’s always looking for new members. Membership does not require any dues, and the club prides itself on its low time commitment. All you need is a love for bees and an interest in beekeeping to join.