The Honey Bee Initiative (HBI) is a university-wide effort supported by the Business for a Better World Center to empower communities through sustainable beekeeping. Students from across George Mason University, regardless of major, are able to engage with us. We offer opportunities to engage in scientific research, design art projects, connect with the community, and even study abroad. Partnerships with government, for-profit businesses, non-profit organizations, and community members are vital to the success of the initiative.
We began humbly in 2012 with 4 hives thanks to an internal seed grant that enabled placement of four hives on our main campus in Fairfax, Virginia. Soon thereafter, a beekeeping class, which filled immediately, was started, and it caused us to think about ways to expand. Led by Germán Perilla, our Master Beekeeper and Executive Director of the Initiative, in 2013 we launched the George Mason University Honey Bee Initiative to educate our campus community about the benefits of sustainable hive management in an urban setting. Quickly we expanded to 16 hives with funds received from a successful crowdfunding campaign. Today, that small start-up has developed into an operation of nearly 800 hives, an established teaching and research program, thriving international programs, and dynamic public-private partnerships that we will continue to grow to increase the impact of our Initiative.
We operate in both Perú and Colombia, dedicated to the idea of using sustainable beekeeping as a tool to empower local communities and drive economic development. In Perú, we’ve worked with community beekeepers to establish vertical hives work, reproduce colonies from the ones they have to create more colonies, create a market for honey and bee-related products, and integrate forest conservation into the community culture. In Colombia, the bee program supports sustainable, entrepreneurial beekeeping programs to foster economic self-sufficiency for indigenous women and their families.
We were immensely proud to have our efforts recognized this year, as HBI’s work in Colombia was selected as the 15th best overall social and environmental project in Latin America and the Caribbean by the Latinoamérica Verde awards. The project was selected due to the results it has achieved in promoting sustainable development and the conservation of bee biodiversity.
The honey bee, a naturalized species of pollinator, is responsible for pollinating approximately $15 billion worth of crops annually in the US alone. As humans modify the natural landscape, understanding honey bees’ resource base and what makes their populations healthy is important economically and in terms of food security. If bees don’t thrive, neither do we.
In partnership with Fairfax County and Covanta, we have established 24 hives on a former landfill to assess the connections between honey bees and their local environment, specifically with regard to the pollen resources they use and contaminants that they might introduce to and accumulate within their hives.
This work will help us learn whether honey bee hives are sufficiently provisioned throughout the seasons and what sort of plants they rely on. It will also inform the degree to which heavy metal contamination is in their foraging range. This knowledge will help inform action that ensures continued health for this important pollinator species.