*This is the first episode of a new 12 News Digital Series – Appalachian Grown, where we take an in-depth look at what it means to be involved in agriculture in West Virginia*
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Beekeepers have to get their start somewhere. The art of beekeeping is most often learned through mentorship and meticulous learning that involves hive-building, disease and pest control, and specialized tools. It is a pastime that is passed down proudly through generations; one that sees senior hive masters passing their knowledge down the line to help the honey bee population flourish. It’s not the type of craft learned hastily without help or purpose.
So imagine learning the art of beekeeping over Zoom . . . or even the phone. That’s how some new West Virginia beekeepers are getting their start during the years of COVID-19.
Broadband and bees are two things that are rarely associated, but for backyard beekeepers forced to learn digitally, it can certainly make things a bit ‘bumbly’. Mark Lilly is the head beekeeper at Appalachian Beekeeping Collective, and he knows the struggle all too well.
“Most of our people [instructors] are like my age, so we’re in the, the rusty old dudes age,” he laughed. “Appalachian Headwaters is concerned for our health, obviously, and those of anybody that we’ve come in contact with. So at the present time, it’s Zoom-only.”
Appalachian Beekeeping Collective (ABC) is a non-profit that trains and supports beekeepers in distressed Appalachian communities to help create economic opportunities for rural families. It is a part of Appalachian Headwaters, which focuses on restoring natural resources in Appalachia.
ABC quickly had to figure out how to deliver traditionally hands-on instruction in an online capacity.
“We would go to the community, whatever Community Center was set aside, we would do it there,” Lilly explained. Adding to the challenge, many people interested in hobbies like beekeeping tend to live in rural areas. That’s where connection became an issue.
“The southern coalfields low population, so there hadn’t been a lot of expansion of the bandwidth programs in that area,” Lilly said. “Two people may have gathered at a house that has the best signal. Or they can call in only.”
Despite the challenges, Lilly says they’ve actually seen an increase in interest; which is crucial, as scientists grapple with a dwindling bee population across the globe. There is good news, though — you don’t need broadband, or even beehives, to help.
“If you’ve got a flower that you set out in spring, you’re kind of a beekeeper supporter, right? Because that’s potential for each for a beekeeper. His bees can fly maybe in a three mile circle.”
And that is plenty to buzz about.
You can support Appalachian Beekeeping Collective beekeepers by purchasing honey here.