Youth Beekeeping Pilot Program

Final Report for YENC12-052

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2012: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Manager:
Kate Sullivan
Community GroundWorks
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Project Information

Youth Beekeeping Pilot Program

Project Duration: March 16, 2012 – April 30, 2014
Date of Report: October 29, 2012

This project took place within the curriculum of the Goodman Youth Grow Local Farm. The program engages a diverse population of over 1000 elementary, middle and high school students in hands-on, farm-based education in an outdoor classroom. Youth are actively involved in the entire process of running a 1/2 acre organic urban farm - from raising seedlings in the local high school greenhouse to harvesting produce and packing the food for delivery to the local community center’s food pantry. Megan Cain is the Program Manager for this program.

The goals of this pilot beekeeping project were to give the students involved practical, hands-on experience of managing a beehive. We also focused on the role of bees in sustainable agriculture and the current environmental threats to bees.

At the beginning of the summer program all of the middle and high school students participated in an informational session where the beekeepers introduced the youth to the beehives and the process of beekeeping. We talked about what being a part of the beekeeping team would entail over the summer and answered the youth’s questions.

Then they were given a week to think about whether they wanted to be a part of the core beekeeping team. The beekeepers were scheduled to come to the farm each Monday morning and work with interested students for about one hour. The youth donned protective gear (long pants and short sleeve shirts bought from the thrift store as well as beekeeping hats and veils) and began the process of opening the hives and inspecting them. The beekeepers covered different topics related to beekeeping each week and slowly built upon the knowledge week to week. At the end of the summer the youth beekeepers ran a station at the farm for a visiting field trip of youth where they ran a mini workshop on the fundamentals of beekeeping.

We focused on the small group experience so that the youth would be able to have hands-on involvement in beekeeping. They helped open the hive, take out the frames and inspect for eggs, larvae and the queen. We also allowed the kids to choose from week to week whether they wanted to be a part of the beekeeping session so that it would remain a fun activity that they were choosing to participate in.

The trainers were one of the adult beekeepers, Sarah Shatz, at Troy Community Farm (CGW’s CSA farm) and a teen beekeeper who has been trained by the farm beekeepers over the past several years. The teen, Sierra Powell, was a recipient of a NCR-SARE Youth Grant in 2008 to support her beekeeping training at the CSA farm. Megan Cain, the youth farm manager, has taken several beekeeping classes and provided additional training to the youth.

Students learned the practical skills and knowledge of beekeeping such as the parts of the hive, the life cycle and anatomy of bees, how to identify the queen, workers and drones and their roles within the hive. They learned how to inspect the hive once a week to evaluate brood comb for signs of diseases, look for the queen and eggs, and keep records of the hive week to week. They learned about and practiced using the beekeeping equipment.

Through the beekeeping program we focused on the ecologically sound aspect of sustainable agriculture as related to bees. The farm curriculum focused on beneficial insects and bees in particular in the summer curriculum. The youth learned about the relationship between pollinators and plants and the central role that bees play in our food systems. We also explored the challenges facing honey bees today.

The main youth audience reached were middle and high school students who were in the summer program of the Youth Grow Local Farm.

Additionally we used the beehives for an educational station during field trips in the summer and fall reaching another 300 students who were introduced to beekeeping through those short workshops. We believe that the youth involved in the program experienced more comfortableness with bees due to their greater understanding of their life cycles and purpose in nature. Their knowledge was tested when they gave a workshop to other students because they had to decide what information to present, the format of the presentation and the roles each of them would play.

Thirty young people directly participated in the hands-on part of the Pilot Beekeeping Project at the Goodman Youth Grow Local Farm in Madison. Our junior beekeeper was involved in teaching and mentoring youth sharing her years of knowledge and experience from her work at our flagship site Troy Gardens and Troy Community Farm. Overall, more than 1,000 young people got a chance to learn about the bees over the season.

I personally learned more about bees and beekeeping and also how to integrate youth into a beekeeping program. I learned that youth love being able to be up close and personal with the bees and getting their hands in the hive. I think the youth were proud of themselves for being so brave as to stand still and inspect the beehives while hundreds of bees flew around them. The results were what I was hoping for – that the kids would be engaged in the project, would ask lots of great questions and would feel connected to the bees. We are considering several changes for next year. We’d like to have more posters and books so that we can more easily explain what is going on in the hive with pictures. Since this program took place in the summer it was often hot with the equipment on. We’d like to make sure we have a shady place right near the hive where we can talk with the students and not have to stand in the sun the whole time.

This pilot beekeeping program was a trial year to test how to integrate beekeeping into the farm-based curriculum of the youth farm. The middle and high school students on the summer beekeeping team were very important in this trial - they were the youth helping form this program on the ground. The summer camp that is adjacent to the youth farm was invited by the youth beekeepers for a field trip to the farm to learn about the bees. The youth organized the session and decided what they wanted to teach the younger kids with the support of the adult beekeepers. As stated above, there were also an additional 300 youth who were introduced to the beekeeping program during our fall field trips. From September 11 – October 11 we hosted field trips of elementary and middle school students from Wingra, Toki, Van Hise, Lakeview, Muir and Kennedy schools. We used the beehives as a station during the trips and explained about the program and taught a bit about the bees.

The Youth Farm hopes to continue to develop a youth beekeeping program for Madison youth. As far as we know, there aren’t many people working with kids and bees in our city. We’d like to refine our program over the next several years and serve as a resource for others who would like to start youth beekeeping programs.


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  • Megan Cain
  • Kate Sullivan
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.