New Beekeepers Group Works to Boost Members—and Bees
As the beekeeping business struggles with its numbers—on the human and insect fronts—one new local group is working to educate its community about the importance of the craft.
Hoping to buck recent trends among honeybees and their keepers, the Ashe County Beekeepers Association (ACBA)—which will become a chartered member of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association next week—is hard at work, trying to increase both its membership and the number of honey-producing bees in the region.
North Carolina has more beekeepers than any other state. But interest in the craft has dwindled, and the epidemic of colony collapse disorder—which the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on in 2010—has drastically reduced the honeybee population.
ACBA Vice President Shelley Felder said the new group’s priority is “bee education.”
“There are some really bad gardening habits out there that people are just not aware of, and they are not aware that they are killing honeybees. That’s part of the association’s duties, to educate the public to be good stewards of the bees,” said Felder, proprietor of the Honey Hole, a supply store that offers training and support to beekeepers.
Like most of the country, Ashe County is seeing a strong “buy local” movement, which is helping ACBA’s cause, Felder said. “We’re all sort of promoting sustainable food and sustainable living, which makes what [ACBA is] trying to do easier.”
Felder’s store, which she opened in 2011 out of necessity (the closest similar shop required a 100-mile round trip), became inundated with fellow beekeepers who realized the need for an association to support them and their work. To gauge interest, Felder had customers fill out a questionnaire when they stopped by.
“I also asked if they would be interested in taking a beekeeping class,” she said. “Before you knew it I had 200 names.”
Despite the initial level of interest, the founding chapter will have 56 members—still an impressive number, considering that Jefferson, North Carolina, where the group is based, has a total population of about 1,600.
Aside from advertising their meetings, Felder said the fledgling group must make beekeepers in the community realize the importance of supporting the organization in its effort to protect the bees.
“No man is an island,” she said. “Once they get involved they realize [being a member] is not so hard. We have to encourage others that if they want their association to last, that they’re going to have to get involved.”