Sustainability is trending, and it’s the guiding principle behind a raft of innovative programs springing up at colleges and universities. Sustainable Urban Beekeeping is one of the latest offerings from Humber College, presented in association with Humber Arboretum, TRCA and Parks, Forestry, and Recreation. The pilot program, launched in 2017, grew in popularity so quickly, class size doubled within one season.“Enrollment is already full for 2018 and we have a waitlist,” says arboretum director Alexandra Link.
The program, led by two seasoned beekeepers, educates students on honeybee anatomy and behaviour and guides them through an entire year of apiary management, from hive assembly to honey harvesting to over-wintering. Eight core courses and four electives comprise the 42-hour program, held in both the classroom and apiary.Aspiring beekeepers who complete the full program walk away with a certificate of completion and enough knowledge to manage a bee colony or launch a small-batch artisanal start-up. Electives cover everything from the bottling and labelling of honey to adhering to regulations, preparing salves, creams, balms, and brewing mead — a honey wine that is one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages.“(The program) equips students to go on to create a small-scale urban apiary of their own,” says Jimmy Vincent, co-ordinator of education, camps, and community outreach at Humber Arboretum.
The college chose to focus on urban beekeeping instead of commercial operations for two reasons: It introduces the next generation to sustainability potential right in their own backyards and speaks to the growing consensus that urban beekeeping may be the only way to save the honeybee.Historically, farmers planted a diversity of crops. Today, monoculture (planting only one large crop, such as corn or soy) has resulted in a catastrophic loss of habitat for pollinators. Habitat loss, agricultural pesticides, pathogens, and parasites have all been named as contenders in the debate over honeybee decline and colony collapse, an issue that impacts our food security.“There has been a surge of interest in beekeeping in the last 10 to 20 years due to this awareness,” says Paul Kelly, research and apiary manager for the University of Guelph’s Honey Bee Research Centre. “Beekeeping is sexy. Everyone wants to be a beekeeper now.”Kelly has noticed a huge spike in interest from young people. “Beekeeping used to be a grumpy-old-man business,” he says. “But the new beekeeper is passionate and diverse in age and gender. Beekeeping is one of the most popular, if not the most popular program at our university.”The University of Guelph, which has been the seat of accredited bee research and apiary management studies in Ontario since 1894,now offers weekend courses for would-be beekeepers, as well. It’s a growing field. Research, education, commercial operations, equipment supply and even horticultural opportunities abound.