Quantcast
Food
Appalachians learn beekeeping skills. John Farrell

Displaced Coal Miners Turn to Beekeeping

By Marlene Cimons

Mark Lilly, 59, grew up and still lives in West Virginia. He spent three decades as an insurance adjuster, often talking to people struggling through the decline of coal. At the end of some very long days, he would escape to his bee hives. "It was therapeutic," he said. Life in coal country may no longer be what it once was, but "the bees haven't changed," he said.

Lilly has since retired from the insurance business, but he still tends to his honeybees. He now is using what he learned from these insects to help out-of-work miners and others hurt by coal's demise. He's turning them into beekeepers.


Lilly sees beekeeping as a way for longtime Appalachians to preserve their connection to the land and to earn extra money during lean times. Some might even be able to support themselves and their families on income from bees.

"Most of the people in these coal towns are very open to anything that involves the outdoors and nature," Lilly said. "Many of those who lost jobs in the mines are now working lower paid jobs because they don't want to leave. They are tied to the land. We have an opportunity to go back to those communities and provide them with a new skill and some additional income, so they can stay where they want."

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective, as it is called, was funded by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership that supports economic opportunities for the people of central Appalachia. The project is part of Appalachian Headwaters, a nonprofit that restores streams and forests harmed by mining and retrains coal workers for new jobs in sustainable industries.

"We want to reforest old mine sites and recreate the native forest ecosystem that would have been there if it had not been strip mined," said Kate Asquith, program director for Appalachian Headwaters. "We started to look at ways we could do economic work out of that reforesting, and beekeeping came naturally. You have to bring in pollinators and honeybee hives are a big part of that."

Joe Lovett, an environmental lawyer and Appalachian Headwaters board member, agreed. "We love it here and wanted to do something to help the region recover and to create jobs that support people for the long term," he said. "Beekeeping is one of those. It's not only a sustainable job, but makes people aware of the natural world."

Lilly believes in approaching people in these communities with an understanding of their culture. "The coal fields [are] an area where environmentalists are seen as bad people, so we don't use that word," he said.

"When we talk to them, we don't tell them that this is about the environment. I ask them, 'what do you eat?' and they will say fruit and nuts, among other things. Then I tell them, 'Look at this insect. This insect is important. Without it, you wouldn't have those fruits and nuts,'" Lilly said. "I tell them that what we do affects the entire chain, and they begin to understand. You then see this person grow into caring about the environment, although they still wouldn't call themselves environmentalists. We are taking the first steps to helping them see that the environment is a really good thing."

Beekeepers inspect the honeycomb. John Farrell

In January, Lilly will teach the 35 people from southern West Virginia how to raise and manage bees and how to produce honey. Appalachian Headwaters plans to expand that number to 85 the following year. The novice beekeepers will learn how bees breed and behave within their own society. They also will learn how to keep their hives healthy. The biggest challenge will be to overcome their fear of getting stung. Lilly has lost count of his stings over the years, but said he's gotten used to it.

"I won't tell anybody you'll never get stung," he said. "That's a fallacy. But as they become comfortable with it, it becomes easier. The swelling and redness and itchiness decreases over time. That was always the worst part. You'd get stung and it would itch for three days. Now I get stung in the morning, and by lunch I can't tell where it was."

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective plans to process, market and distribute honey. The ultimate goal is to bring millions of dollars into the region and provide income for hundreds of Appalachians. The new beekeepers will receive hives either for free or at a reduced price, depending on their income.

The eventual goal is to have thousands of hives flourishing in the area. Debbie Delaney, associate professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who helped establish the collective's first 500 colonies of bees last summer, predicted that "in that area of West Virginia, if they do things right, they should be able to get close to 200 pounds of honey off of each hive."

Honey sells from $3 to $25 a pound, depending on whether beekeepers use chemicals to raise the insects, Asquith said. "Our beekeepers won't be using chemicals, which adds a lot of value to the honey," she said. The collective will process and store the honey in a large processing facility. The structure is the site of an old camp owned by coal companies that thousands of miners' children attended.

"When I was there over the summer, at least twice a week somebody would drive by and say, 'I went to camp here 50 years ago. This place means so much to me.' So it's really a special spot," Delaney said. "There's so much rich history there."

All of those involved in the beekeeping collective recognize that the region needs time to recover, but this project represents an important step in that direction. "We spent a lot of years scarring the land," Lilly said. "Now we will begin trying to heal some of those scars."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Oceans
Enipniastes eximia, aka "headless chicken monster." NOAA

'Headless Chicken Monster' to Help Antarctic Conservation Efforts

Enypniasties eximia—a deep-sea swimming sea cucumber scientists have affectionately called the "headless chicken monster"has been caught on camera for the first time in Antarctic waters thanks to new underwater camera technology developed by Australian researchers.

Footage of the finned sea creature will be used to aid important marine conservation efforts in the Southern Ocean.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Animal Collective performing at The Concord in Chicago on Feb. 2, 2016. swinfinfan / CC BY 2.0

Animal Collective’s 'Tangerine Reef': Myth, Mystery and Subtle Environmentalism

By David Colgan

In a way, you could consider coral reefs the rainforests of the oceans—dense, mysterious and full of life.

Covering less than two percent of the ocean floor, they are home to a quarter of all marine species. But unlike rainforests, a longtime conservation focus, corals have received relatively little attention. The alien-looking seascapes have captivated explorers, divers and others privileged enough to visit, but remained largely out of sight for most people.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Giant Petrel flying over the South Atlantic. Liam Quinn / CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s Giant Mice Vs. Rare Seabirds on This Remote South Atlantic Island

On a remote island in the South Atlantic, a evolutionary battle is playing out between giant mice and rare sea birds. So far, the mice are winning.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Some of the young plaintiffs in landmark climate case Juliana v. United States. Our Children's Trust

Supreme Court Puts Historic Youth Climate Lawsuit on Hold

The U.S. Supreme Court put a landmark climate case on pause Friday while it considers a last-ditch attempt by the Trump administration to stop it from proceeding to trial, Climate Liability News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Annette Bernhardt / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

3 Things You Can Do to Help Avoid Climate Disaster

By Stephanie Feldstein

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dire warning last week: We need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to do it fast to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Jess Lundgren / CC BY 2.0

The Trump Administration’s ‘Dishonest’ Attack on Fuel-Economy Standards

By John R. Platt

The Trump administration's plan to freeze fuel-economy standards is "the most spectacular regulatory flip-flop in history," said a retired EPA engineer who helped to develop new the standards under the Obama administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Adventure
Lizzie Carr traveling down the Hudson River on her stand-up paddleboard. Max Guliani / The Hudson Project

Her Stand-Up Paddleboard Is a Platform for Campaigning Against Plastic Pollution

By Patrick Rogers

Lizzie Carr was navigating a stretch of the Hudson River north of Yonkers, New York, recently when she spotted it—a hunk of plastic so large and out of place that she was momentarily at a loss to describe it.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales. Michael Van Woert, NOAA

Scientists Study Ice Shelf by Listening to Its Changing Sounds

By Marlene Cimons

Researchers monitoring vibrations from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf were flabbergasted not long ago to hear something unexpected—the ice was "singing" to them. "We were stunned by a rich variety of time-varying tones that make up this newly described sort of signal," said Rick Aster, professor of geosciences at Colorado State University, one of the scientists involved in the study.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!