Kansas Rural Center Helps Launch Eight New Beekeepers in Douglas County, Kansas
by Joanna Voigt
With a little help from the Kansas Rural Center, vision became reality this spring for eight aspiring beekeepers. Through a grant from the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund, administered by the Douglas County Community Foundation, eight candidates were selected from 89 applicants to receive a bee hive, basic beekeeping equipment, membership in Northeastern Kansas Beekeepers’ Association, beginning beekeeping classes, a mentor from the local beekeeping community, and a package of bees.
The new beekeepers received unassembled hives and basic beekeeping equipment in mid-March, and were paired with mentors to help guide them through their first year of beekeeping. Among the first tasks for the new beekeepers was assembling the hives, choosing an appropriate location for their bees, and preparing for the arrival of the packages. In addition to support from their mentors, the new beekeepers received nine hours of instruction at Northeastern Kansas Beginning Beekeepers’ Association (NEKBA) beginning beekeeping classes.
In late April, eight packages of Italian honey bees, each containing 10,000 – 12,000 worker bees and a mated queen, arrived in Douglas County and were quickly distributed to the new beekeepers for installation in their hives. Initial reports from the new beekeepers indicate that the bees are off to a great start, building comb and bringing in pollen and nectar.
Julie Mettenburg, Kansas Rural Center Executive Director, noted that it was very inspiring to see the huge amount of interest in beekeeping, and that it was difficult to choose just eight beekeepers from the large pool of applicants. “There were people whose grandfathers had been beekeepers and they wanted to rekindle the tradition, people wanting to do their part to help bees and pollinators and the environment, and people interested in the art and craft of beekeeping. So many wonderful and compelling stories and applications.”
The new beekeepers represent a wide range of ages, occupations and specific reasons for wanting to get into beekeeping.
Michael Fraley is on the board of the Jayhawk Audubon Society, and he and his wife have been moving steadily towards a self-sustaining lifestyle for a number of years. They feel that keeping bees is an important part of this lifestyle.
Leslie Grey is a sophomore at Lawrence High School and her interest in bees was piqued in grade school by a friend who kept bees, which Leslie found intriguing. With help from her dad, Dave, Leslie will keep the bees at their house in rural Douglas County, where they have a large garden and have recently started raising goats. They plan plant sweet clover in a fallow field close to the bees. They hope to eventually expand both their goat and honey bee operations to a level where they can sell the products.
Jen Humphrey and Jess Pierson run a newly certified organic farm, and are interested in the pollinator/crop relationship in addition to being concerned about pollinator decline. They raise goats and chickens, as well as a whole host of organic vegetables which they sell at the Lawrence Farmers Market. Jen is the Communications Director for the Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas and is hoping to take over management of the observation hive at the museum.
Ryan Koch is an electrician whose grandfather was a beekeeper. Ryan helped his grandfather tend the bees when he was young, and has fond memories of the experience. His grandfather’s equipment was sold when he was too young to have a say in the matter, so Ryan is happy to have this opportunity to carry on the tradition.
Brett LaRue is a Deputy Sheriff and his wife, Oksana, is an Admissions Assistant at Baker University. They became motivated to do their part to take care of the environment after having a son four years ago. Oksana has an extensive garden and they plan to plant an orchard on their land in rural Douglas County. Brett is interested in agriculture and feels that keeping bees is a good first step.
Sue McGee is a homemaker and avid gardener. She and her husband, Jim, a retired firefighter, sell produce at the Lawrence Farmers Market and have started an orchard on their 10-acre property outside of Eudora. They have always loved bees and feel they have a great environment for them.
Scott Seratte is a firefighter/EMT for Lawrence/Douglas County. He has been interested in bees since he was a kid and hopes to help reverse the declining bee populations by getting involved in beekeeping.
Matt Stephens and Melissa Freiburger have strong agricultural roots – Matt’s grandfather was a beekeeper and Melissa’s family are dairy farmers. Matt is an accountant and Melissa is a Farm to Preschool educator. They have an urban farm and are highly interested in passing on knowledge and passion about local and sustainable food systems, which they feel bees contribute significantly to.
The mentors for the new beekeepers are Richard Bean, Robert Burns, Pam Ferguson, Greg Hazen, and Dale Hofer.