'Protect and conserve': How two organizations are addressing the plight of the honeybee

They’re responsible for a third of our crops, yet they are dwindling in population each year. Honeybees are an under-appreciated part of our ecosystem and their future depends on the actions of humans. That’s the message two local groups are trying to communicate through their efforts.

More than just honey, Southwest Honey Co. believes that the honey bee is the perfect way to portray how the ecosystem and small creatures can have a large impact on the wellbeing of the environment.Southwest Honey Co. is a volunteer-led organization whose mission is to protect and conserve the bee population in Fort Wayne. Its lead educator and beekeeper, Megan Ryan, is a school teacher and environmentalist. She says Southwest Honey Co. was formed in response to a need she saw in the community. 

“There are a lot of beekeeping classes offered locally, which is great, but that's just not part of our mission,” she says. “We don't necessarily advocate for that. More importantly, we want to advocate to teach people the connection and the importance of where our food comes from and the role that pollinators play in that and how a lack of pollinators would truly affect our ecosystem and our ability to survive.”

Ryan and her team of about a dozen volunteers takes a practical approach to bridge that gap. They offer hands-on educational programs in the summer months on-site (at the Southwest Conservation Club) and in the community to reach children and adults alike. She says to date they’ve had about 3,000 unique participants engaged through their educational activities. 

Megan Ryan presents in the community about the importance of the honeybee to our food system.

And the message seems to be getting through to people. “Almost every person who answered the survey said they personally want to make changes in their life that would positively impact pollinator populations,” she says. “So that's that first hurdle — that awareness piece.”

Educational programming at Southwest Honey Co.
On that note, Ryan says people can start in their own backyards. For example, allowing dandelions to grow and being conscious of the chemicals you put on your lawn are little things that can yield significant results. The same can be said for planting native plants, which are beneficial to pollinators. 

Ryan also invites people to help the cause of pollinators through support of her organization. They sell honey and gifts to help offset the cost of programming. Individuals and families can also “adopt a hive,” which helps to pay for the cost of beekeeping equipment and hive maintenance needed to properly care for a colony.

Speaking of beekeeping, the Northeast Indiana Beekeeper's Association advocates for and supports this endeavor. Director Mike Miller personally tends to as many as 100 colonies at a given time. 

He says it’s a critical time to take up the hobby. According to his estimates, nationwide about half of the honeybee population has died off. And he believes that number could be as high as 70 percent in Indiana. 

Those figures are in line with Greenpeace’s data: “In the U.S., winter losses have commonly reached 30-50 percent, in some cases more. In 2006, David Hackenberg — a beekeeper for 42 years — reported a 90 percent die-off among his 3,000 hives. U.S. National Agricultural Statistics show a honey bee decline from about 6 million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million hives in 2008, a 60 percent reduction.”

Miller says his organization supports aspiring and current beekeepers alike, through workshops and meetings. Visit their website for a schedule of upcoming events

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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