Monday, July 13, 2009

The Sweetest Harvest: Youth Outreach

This post is from the road: I am looking for bees in Britain and France again! But there is another reason why the blog suffers in the summertime: it is my best chance to work with children in and about the apiary.
I'm a bit over halfway through my presentations, which usually involve bringing an observation hive, an empty hive setup, a skep, some tools and veils, and a honey tasting opportunity. I used to prepare the flow of the presentations a bit more precisely, but usually the kids are more than ready to challenge, ask questions, and generally become friends of the bees with very little help from me.
I work with two dramatically different populations, for the most part, though they all end up being curious kids at heart. My downtown kids usually put me through a bit of an "Are you serious?" drill, where they basically need me to prove two things: that I know what I am talking about, and (more importantly) that this is coming from a place of real caring and passion. They are sick of hearing prescriptions about what they should be doing with their lives, I think, and are primarily interested in whether I am really going to share.
The suburban kids are also skeptical in their own way. They usually have some exposure to the subject matter, and also want to know whether I am wasting their time, in this case with stuff they know already. I am more likely to deal with kids who are actually afraid of nature in the 'burbs: it is an oversimplification, but that folks who have worked so hard to move their kids to the edge of the best have often transmitted a sense of general worry about everything that flies, buzzes, or grows.
But the bees make pretty short work of that. Bring a populated observation hive into a group of kids and you will soon have preteens glued around the box -- and they are usually better at spotting drones than we are.
In our region, summer is the only time I can really do this outreach: by the time schools get rolling in the autumn, the bees are beginning their winter shutdown and are both vulnerable and less cooperative. In the spring, the insects-that-pollinate unit in the curriculum may take place before the weather is safely warm enough to move queens and brood.
But this is an appeal to beekeepers new and established: even after a simple short course, you already know enough to fill an hour-long presentation. And every kid you send home as a friend of bees might be more willing to get his parents to allow bees in a neighbor's back yard, or (later) even their own!