Displaced Coal Miners Are Learning A New Skill That Could End Up Saving Us All: Beekeeping

They're helping preserve one of our most valuable natural resources.

October 16, 2017
beekeeper
Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch/getty

It's no surprise that the coal industry is in decline, as it's faced with the increasing abundance of cheaper, somewhat cleaner, U.S.-produced natural gas, as well as increasing global environmental awareness and access to renewable sources of energy

The problem that can't be ignored, however, is the unemployment and poverty that has resulted from lost jobs in former coal towns. Many argue that there needs to be new work to replace coal mining for coal industry-dependent workers and their families in places throughout Appalachia, like West Virginia, where coal was once king. 

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But what can replace coal?

Debbie Delaney, associate professor of entomology for the University of Delaware's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources program, has one good answer: bees.

Related: 6 Things You Need To Know Before You Buy Honey Again

Delaney worked with the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective in southern West Virginia to pioneer a project that helps former coal miners and others in the region learn how operate bee colonies. Their hope is to promote socioeconomic growth and assist displaced coal miners in 14 counties throughout southern West Virginia. 

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In the program, former coal miners maintain a colony and pull their honey off, thus learning a new trade, and then bring it in to experts at the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective to extract. (Check out these 5 cool ways to make your own beehive.) The honey is then bottled and marketed and sold to higher end communities. An important aspect of this nonprofit program is that it helps first-time beekeepers get as much profit as possible in an industry that can be expensive in the start-up phase due to costs of buying hives and equipment, but profitable in the long term.

Related: Grow These 50 Pollen-Rich Plants To Help Your Local Honeybees

This program is also crucially important given the fact that the preservation of bee populations is imperative to the survival of the planet as a whole. According to the Center for Globalization: "Perhaps the biggest foreboding danger of all facing humans is the loss of the global honeybee population. The consequence of a dying bee population impacts man at the highest levels on our food chain, posing an enormously grave threat to human survival, since no other single animal species plays a more significant role in producing the fruits and vegetables that we humans commonly take for granted yet require near daily to stay alive." 

 

Experts believe that bee populations are drastically falling in part because pesticides are killing them off and their habitats are being destroyed. Many additional organizations, such as the Bee Friendly Food Alliance, are working to preserve their populations. 

Related: 6 Things You Need To Know About Organic Beekeeping Before Starting A Backyard Hive

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Delaney spent her summer working as a consultant as they prepared the program site, which was an old camp that was once owned and operated by coal mining companies. The camp has fond memories for many of the families from the area, since thousands of children from coal mining families attended camp here over the course of decades. Because people very closely connected to this land, Delaney says the pivot to an even closer-to-nature project was a natural fit for many. 

Related: Are Bats The Ultimate Answer In The Quest For Natural Insect Control?

“They’re native and they’ve been there for generations, and they know that every mountain and every hill has a name even though it might not be on a map. Because they’re so tied to the land, this operation had to be something that was sustainable and that was also very connected to the environment, and beekeeping is definitely both of those things,” Delaney told Ohio Ag Connection

The program is starting with 35 beekeepers and hoping to include 85 next year. The goal is to continue to expand from there and more jobs—and honey.

 

That's some buzz-worthy news we can get behind.