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Campus Bee Club seeks to revive membership, bring bees to campus

March 21, 2018

The Bee Club was in decline when Morgan Waste began attending UW-River Falls as a freshman in the biochemistry program this year. The students who made up the core of the club had recently either graduated or decided to step back, and the adviser for the club – Brad Mogen – had just retired. Enthusiasm and membership were down and the club had not been doing anything for a semester.

Waste, however, was determined that UWRF would have a bee club.

“When I was thinking of joining Bee Club,” she said, “I didn’t have many friends. I was still trying to find my footing here, and so when I saw Bee Club, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is what I’m going to do. This is how I’m going to make my connections.’”

The club was still meeting once a week, so Waste hunted down the meeting time and place. The only attendees ended up being her and Katie Erickson, the vice president of the club and a sophomore majoring in broad area art.

“And we just sat and talked about bees for four hours,” said Erickson.

Erickson and Leia Chally, the club’s new president and a senior majoring in field biology, had originally intended to give the Bee Club a rest last semester while they reorganized and tried to figure out what they were going to do with it. Then Waste joined them, and it became apparent that she was going to make sure the club stayed active.

“We were going to have a club regardless,” said Erickson, “because of Morgan’s determination … it was going to happen.”

Since joining, Waste has become the treasurer of the club. She also realized that, with Mogen gone, the club needed a new adviser if it was going to continue to exist. She had been taking an Honors Program seminar from Mark Klapatch, UWRF Sustainability and Custodial Supervisor, and she figured that his involvement in sustainability could potentially make him a good fit for the job. When Waste asked, Klapatch accepted the position. He did, however, warn her that he had no experience with bees.

“I told the Bee Club I would be happy to be the adviser,” Klapatch said. “I can help facilitate the conversation about getting bees on campus. I can help work with management, I can work with the grounds, I can help reserve rooms … but I know absolutely nothing about beekeeping.”

From here, Bee Club has a few things it needs to do. The first is get their budget approved; that is in progress. The next thing is to figure out exactly what they want the club to be about. Previously, it was centered around practical beekeeping. Some of the members would join Mogen at his personal bee yard on weekends or over spring break, and he would show them how raising honeybees worked.

President Chally, who was a member at that point, never went on these trips because of inconvenient timing. She ended up doing a lot of honey bottling so that the end product could be sold to Chartwells. The new goal of the club is to get one or two hives on campus so that inconvenient timing is less of a problem and members can become more involved in the beekeeping process.

“We’ll definitely wait until the right time,” said Vice President Erickson. “We’ll wait until we have people who show interest and who are really committed to helping us with this project.”

Getting bees on campus, Klapatch said, will take a lot of planning and is very much in the beginning stages as a project. The club needs to figure out what their budget is for buying the necessary supplies. A single starter package of bees can cost anywhere from $60 – $170 online. Other necessary items like the hive body that protects the colony from the elements and the frame inserts that the bees build their honeycomb on are an additional cost.

The club also needs to make sure the hive complies with city rules and ensure that the bees will be located somewhere they won’t be a danger. One potential idea is to have the hive placed near the organic garden maintained by the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture. This would ensure that the bees are fenced in and that they would provide pollination for the gardens.

Increased collaboration between Bee Club and SALSA is also an idea Klapatch and the Bee Club members have been pondering. Bee Club, Erickson said, is a very niche sort of group, and getting enough membership to make a club might be a challenge. Working more closely with SALSA or even merging with them could be advantageous for maintaining membership and ensuring that interest in bees on campus does not die out.

“They seem like great people,” Erickson said. “Our goals for campus align pretty nicely.”

The club might also start working with other, more experienced beekeepers from around River Falls. They’ve talked about getting involved with local community members who are involved with bees. Fore example, they might take field trips out to visit the bee operations of Jerome Rodewald, who is a retired commercial beekeeper.

They’ve also asked Adjunct Professor Tovah Flygare to be a co-adviser for the club, since Flygare keeps bees of her own and could potentially help with the hive. Flygare said that she would be happy to help, not only by offering her expertise but also by caring for the bees in the summer. Since caring for one or two hives doesn’t take a large group of people, she said she would only need one other helper from the club itself.

“I think any project like this is really interesting,” Flygare said, “because it allows student to brainstorm … troubleshoot, look at the potential opportunities where something might fit in with the broader campus. Go beyond what they might … in a usual course. Looking into the real-world practicalities.”

For now, the goal of getting bees on campus is a distant goal. It likely won’t happen this spring, Klapatch said, but the club is aiming to move forward with that project by next year. In the meantime, the small group is reorganizing and figuring out what they want the club to be about. They will continue meeting on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. in room 425 of the Agricultural Science Building, and questions can be directed to President Chally at leia.chally@my.uwrf.edu.

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