Honey Bees on the Farm: Connecting Women Beekeepers and Women Farmers for Environmental and Economic Benefit

Progress report for LNC17-396

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2017: $200,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/29/2021
Grant Recipient: Center for Rural Affairs
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Sandra Renner
Center for Rural Affairs
Co-Coordinators:
Wyatt Fraas
Center for Rural Affairs
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Project Information

Summary:

In Nebraska, the small-scale beekeeping and diversified/specialty crop farming industries are growing. Many beekeepers lack land for hives, limiting business potential and environmental benefit. Many diversified and specialty crop farmers would benefit from honey bee pollination and pollinator-friendly conservation practices. With continued high bee colony and habitat loss, there is a critical opportunity to support the pollinators we rely on while promoting business sustainability through the co-location, or stacking, of honeybees and diversified/specialty crop farms. The project addresses women in agriculture, an underserved audience with strong conservation values.

The goal of this project, “Honey Bees on the Farm: Connecting Women Beekeepers and Women Farmers for Environmental and Economic Benefit,” is to increase profitability and environmental sustainability of women beekeepers and women farmers through collaborative approaches while supporting hive health. We will:

  • provide training to women beekeepers and women farmers regarding pollination, related conservation, and stacking farm/apiary enterprises, addressing bee-wise farm practices and farm-wise beekeeping practices, using a proven learning circle format;
  • facilitate stacked farm/apiary enterprises for shared economic and environmental benefit;
  • evaluate changes in crop/honey production and hive health due to co-location, with data used in training;
  • study behavior changes (process by which training/support lead to adoptions of bee-wise management practices and stacked enterprises) to document effectiveness and support future outreach and training efforts
  • share project progress and results widely.

The project will improve the ability of women farmers and beekeepers to support honey bees and other pollinators on the farm. It will develop connections between women beekeepers and women farmers, enhance their production, and help them collaborate for shared success. Both farmers and beekeepers will gain opportunities to maximize land use and reduce costs by stacking enterprises. Our data collection will quantify benefits of stacked enterprises while documenting the effectiveness of this project’s approach in changing behaviors; this will provide research support to enable for widespread adoption by extension educators and others.

When farmers improve bee-wise farming practices and/or co-locate with beekeepers, farmers will obtain greater uniformity, size, color, and taste to specialty crops due to pollination services provided by the bees. By working alongside farmers, beekeepers will see improved colony health and greater honey production due to the abundance and diversity of forage provided by specialty crops. The project will also provide environmental benefits via improved conservation practices and honey bee/pollinator protection.

Project Objectives:

Learning:

  • Farmers/beekeepers understand pollination concepts, mutual benefits
  • Farmers/beekeepers learn best management practices for agricultural areas
  • Farmers learn pollinator-friendly conservation practices
  • Participants understand production/hive health impacts of project’s co-located bee/farm operations
  • Participant behavior change model researched/documented

Action:

  • Beekeepers/farmers stack/co-locate enterprises using best management practices
  • Farmers employ pollinator-friendly conservation
  • Beekeepers/farmers engage with agroecological functions, impacts via learning circles

System:

  • Farmer-beekeeper connection model developed, delivered, shared
  • Understanding of benefit increases, fear decreases regarding bees on farm
  • Improved management and conservation practices support healthier, more productive crops and bees
  • Behavior change research enables widespread replication
Introduction:

“Honey Bees on the Farm: Connecting Women Beekeepers and Women Farmers for Environmental and Economic Benefit” uses a learning circle model to train and connect women who are small-scale beekeepers and/or diversified farmers, addressing plant-pollinator interactions and farming/apiculture practices, network building, and business connections. By working together, small-scale beekeepers and small diversified farmers can improve their knowledge, production, and profitability while protecting environment and bee health; the project will assess these changes.

 

Cooperators

  • Doug Golick
  • Judy Wu-Smart

Research

Hypothesis:

Research Questions

How does involvement in this program impact participants?

 

Does involvement in this program lead to changes in bee colony health?

 

Describe what is it like to be a woman beekeeper and/or farmer within this program?

Materials and methods:

2018:  We are using surveys and interviews to gather data on impact on participants and changes in their understanding on pollinator conservation. We are also interviewing landowners and beekeepers to see how the project learning circles and interactions within the program are affecting the success of their beekeeping operations and farm management. We are also conducting hive inspections with the beekeeper participants to determine how the program is affecting their beehive management. Data is recorded on a hive health spreadsheet and recording video of hive inspects for post-hoc video protocol analysis.

2019:  We used surveys, interviews, and recorded beekeeper video to gather data on impact on participants and changes in their understanding on pollinator conservation. We also interviewed landowners and beekeepers to see how the project learning circles and interactions within the program are affecting the success of their beekeeping operations and farm management. We also conducted hive inspections with the beekeeper participants to determine how the program is affecting their beehive management. Data was recorded on a hive health spreadsheet and recording video of hive inspects for post-hoc video protocol analysis.

2020:  We delivered programming live before the pandemic and via Zoom to Nebraska women beekeepers. Data was collected from years 2018 and 2019 and interviews in Winter of 2020 and analyzed using statistical and qualitative analysis software. Work was presented at one regional meeting and two national meetings. GRA’s work was compiled into a thesis and approved by her thesis committee.  22 beekeepers and 40 farmer-landowners participated in research in 2020.

Research results and discussion:

2018:  We collected preliminary data this year to set the research protocol and refine questions. The first year of research is starting winter-spring 2019.

2019:  We collected data from 20 program participants, 96 non-program women beekeepers (control/comparative data), in-person pre and post program in person or phone interviews with 12 participants, 3 interviews with non program participants. Over 3000 minutes of video data was also collected on beekeepers keeping hives. Over, 150 hours were spent with program participant beekeepers and landowner in collecting data. Research (Preliminary Analysis) was presented at 2 National Meetings and 2 International Conferences in 2019.

Preliminary Data

For our participants, scores for pollinator knowledge (p = 0.127, n = 7) and honey bee management knowledge went up significantly for participants (p = 0.034, n =7). * significant, p .05. We also found a positive correlation between knowledge and mid-season hive health. Honey bee knowledge score mid-season hive health score per colony (Spearman’s Rho = 0.481, p = 0.007, n = 30). In looking at the data nearly every aspect of confidence, knowledge about bee management, and general beekeeping knowledge has improved. We are working to run the final analysis of the project this year.

2020: 

All participants in the program said that the program helped them in their beekeeping. Total beekeeping and self-efficacy in beekeeping score increased for program participants. 88% of participants reported that they kept better hive inspection schedules and records of hive management practices. 

From interviews, four themes emerged regarding how the Women in Beekeeping programs helped participants.

  • Learned more about inspections
  • The process and procedures of inspecting hives
  • New accessibility to beekeeping management knowledge
  • Engaging with other women beekeepers and landowners through the program
Research conclusions:

This area will be filled in with more text soon.  For now, here is a link to the thesis entitled WOMEN IN BEEKEEPING: IMPACTS OF A BEEKEEPER EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM  https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/entomologydiss/67/

Participation Summary
40 Farmers participating in research

Education

Educational approach:

We will use the proven “learning circle” peer learning approach to train participants. Learning circles are educational sessions for small groups of women (up to about 30 participants), led by a facilitator. In the learning circle, facilitated discussion enables women to learn collaboratively, and primarily from each other. Presentations from experts supplement internal knowledge where needed, and female experts are used wherever possible to maintain the women-only circle. In addition to providing knowledge, the learning circles develop a peer network that can help enable ongoing communication and support.

In this project, we will hold 4 learning circle sessions per year for women beekeepers and women farmers. Sessions will take place throughout eastern Nebraska. Participants will be encouraged to attend as many learning circle sessions as possible, which builds a community for peer learning and support, but they need not attend multiple times to participate.

Our learning circle sessions will be hosted at farms, beekeeping operations, or co-located operations, and will include demonstrations/tours. Training will address beekeeping basics, on-farm pollinator habitat, and collaborative farmer/beekeeper approaches in environmental context, and will provide the tools and skills for beekeepers and farmers to make personal and business connections. Sessions will also include sharing and discussion of the production data collected from bee-farm partnerships. Each session will focus on a specific topic, with participants interests and expertise shaping the discussion.

Though the learning circle methodology currently lacks research support showing how it elicits behavior change, it has been successfully demonstrated as an effective approach in training women farmers, including through SARE projects. Traditional farm agency outreach methods have been designed and delivered largely by men and to men, leaving women feeling overlooked, uninformed, and poorly prepared (Eells, 2013). In contrast, the learning circle technique specifically addresses the educational and support needs of women farmers and women beekeepers. Documentation by WFAN and CFRA has shown that women (a) prefer to learn about agricultural issues from other women, particularly their peers and female professionals, in an informal, peer-to-peer discussion format that fosters support and encouragement to ask basic questions and to try new approaches, and (b) want to see themselves and their values reflected in outreach materials, expressed in clear, non-technical language and featuring information about other women like themselves taking action on their operations. Women prefer to learn in a women-only environment, and find peer-to-peer meetings significantly more informative and motivating than traditional lecture-style meetings (Tannen, 1991; Cech, 2011). Based on the success of this model in working with farmers and agricultural landowners, we expect it to be successful with beekeepers as well. This project’s research component will also document a behavior change model and develop strong research-based support to enable replication by extension and other service providers.

In addition to the in-person learning circle meetings, we will connect participants to each other via video conference, private webinars, email, and phone for ongoing peer learning and communication.

Cech, Erin, et al. "Professional role confidence and gendered persistence in engineering." American Sociological Review 76.5 (2011): 641-666.

Eells, Jean Crim, "The Overlooked Landowner: A review of research on women farmland owners in the US." (2013). Women Food and Agriculture Network. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

Tannen, Deborah. “You just don't understand: Women and men in conversation.” London: Virago, 1991.

 

Project Activities

Learning Circles
Technical Assistance
Workshops

Educational & Outreach Activities

85 Consultations
6 On-farm demonstrations
6 Online trainings
11 Published press articles, newsletters
4 Tours
13 Webinars / talks / presentations
14 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

293 Farmers
27 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

2018:  PIs Golick, Wu-Smart, and graduate student also presented as a part of the programming for this project at the Nebraska State Fair, Grand Island Nebraska Central Community College Bee Pollinator Festival 200 in attendance, to 150 first graders at  Roper Elementary, Lincoln, NE, 150 Lincoln Girl Scouts on the topic of beekeeping, for 130 High School Junior and Seniors About Programming and Careers for students with a focus on beekeeping, and outreach on Women and Beekeeping to 200 Children and Adults. The Center for Rural Affairs published each event on facebook and on our website.  Events published on facebook reached 14,200 people with 293 responses.  Below is a link to a newsletter article that was published through the Center for Rural Affairs. 

https://www.cfra.org/news/181129/bee-connection-sticking-landowners-and-beekeepers-together

 

2019:  PIs Golick, Wu-Smart, and graduate student also presented as a part of the programming for this project at the Grand Island Nebraska Central Community College Pollinator Festival October 2019, June at the Nebraska Beekeepers Association (80 in attendance); research findings from the women beekeepers in the form of poster presentations at the International Bee Conference at Davis, California in July and the Entomological Society of America’s Annual Meeting in St. Louise in November. Additionally, Graduate Student Bridget Gross spent nearly 100 hours this past year working individually with Women in Beekeeping participants.

 Additionally, Lincoln Girl Scouts on the topic of beekeeping, for 130 High School Junior and Seniors About Programming and Careers for students with a focus on beekeeping, and outreach on Women and Beekeeping to 200 Children and Adults.

Center for Rural Affairs submitted two press releases to various news outlets regarding this beekeeping programming.

2020:  Center for Rural Affairs activity in 2020 included on June 16, 2020, CFRA’s weekly “Rural Rapport” on Facebook Live featured Erin Schoenberg discussing educational opportunities related to this project and other related work:  https://www.facebook.com/ruralaffairs/videos/706312163542831  We sent out press releases for each event in our WLC series plus our supplemental opportunities (those press releases are included later in this report).  

Educational events promoted included:  Bumble Bee Atlas citizen science project, Great Plains Master Beekeeping group, the series of Women’s Learning Circles, Nebraska (and National) Pollinator Week, Nebraska Friends of Pollinators Facebook group, UNL Bee Lab, The Pollinators documentary, and more.  898 views total at the time of this report.  

UNL’s efforts on promotion and outreach included 2 workshops were women and beekeeping program content was presented including a workshop at the Nebraska Beekeeping association meeting where 30 were in attendance. Additionally, one online webinar on the findings and implications of the work was shared with beekeepers. Two presentations at national meetings were given on the outcomes and implications of the work including American Beekeeping Conference in 32 in Schaumburg, IL (January) and at the virtual Entomological Society of America Conference in (November).

Learning Outcomes

38 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
4 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes as a result of their participation
Key areas taught:
  • honey bee management
  • agriculture landscape management
  • agriculture landscape conservation
  • beehive health strategies
  • basic beekeeping practices
  • USDA farm programs awareness
  • Legal considerations and contracts for farmers and ranchers
  • Pollinator Diversity
  • Alternative Hive Locations
  • early blooming plants for pollinators
  • matching beekeepers and landowners - working together
  • utilizing peer-to-peer networks for sharing knowledge

Project Outcomes

19 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Key practices changed:
  • Improved hive management

  • Contracts adopted for honey bee placement

  • conservation planning for pollinators

1 Grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Success stories:

2018: One woman beekeeper who was successfully matched through the project is expanding.  She took advantage of a USDA FSA microloan to expand her business.  As of this report she is planning on 3 or 4 locations in 2019.  

2019: One project grad student was selected for and participated in Farmer to Farmer Dominican Republic, working with improved honey bee business record keeping with Dominican farmers and beekeepers.

100% (preliminary) of participants are displaying better beekeeping practices and behaviors (video observations).

120 hrs of individual observation and instruction has been conducted with Women beekeepers as a result of this project

2020:  Women and Beekeeping program useful. Every program participant found the program beneficial, although their reasons why varied. 

  1. One participant, a first-year beekeeper, stated, “Just knowing that somebody who knew what they were doing was coming out here and confirming that everything was fine.” Having the support of the research team and larger beekeeping community was important to her experience. 
  2. The systematics of inspecting is used to describe beekeepers who found that the program helped them to keep better documentation and scheduling or bee health management. One participant said. “I am more systematic I think in evaluating things in the hive...and I feel like we did a much more thorough investigation of them every month, you know, so that I knew what was, what was going on.” Other participant said, it helped her to create a regular schedule of when she wanted to inspect her hives. 
  3. All enjoyed being able to engage with the learning circle and beekeeping community. One beekeeper started beekeeping in 2019 because she felt she had the support of the beekeeping community and research team. Another, who had been beekeeping for 8 years, stated that she enjoyed the program for providing a chance for beekeepers and landowners to talk and educate each other. She stated, “I just thought it was really interesting [to watch other women beekeepers] and I feel like part of the things that they're doing, I could definitely use.”  
  4. As are result of the program, one woman beekeeper (hive owner) began handling the bees and the frames with bees on it while before she relied on her partner to do so.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.