What’s the BUZZ? Interview with Kristin Wolf

CCPI Staff Writer Jessica Demarest interviewed Kristin Wolf during the Fall 2015 semester as part of our Apiary Project. In honor of sustainability month, we’ve transcribed the interview for you to read.

What was the reasoning behind starting the Champlain Apiary?

While getting her PhD at George Mason University, Kristin’s mentor was very involved in the beekeeping program and taught her all about it. She liked the idea of experiential learning and said that “it’s a way that you can have a living laboratory on campus.” Kristin decided she wanted to bring something like that to Champlain and the apiary was started in 2013. It’s now entering its third season.

The apiary is also useful for classes. Environmental Policy uses the apiary to study the economy and environment; the Concepts of Community classes look at bees as individuals and the hive mind as a whole; and the Bodies courses look at it in terms of reproduction.

 Did you have any challenges starting the apiary? What were they?

As far as personal challenges go, Kristin was pregnant with her first child and the baby came 6 weeks early, which happened to coincide with the arrival of the bees. She was lucky enough to make many friends in the beekeeping community who supported her during that stressful time. But she had to understand liability and risk management in order to get approval—especially because a dog ban was happening at campus around the same time which caused push back against the apiary. Kristin was given the task of finding an already-small space on campus that was suitable for the bees.

What is the primary goal of the apiary?

“My main focus was to bring people around bees and introduce them to this other community,” said Kristin. She sees the apiary as a self-sustaining business: the honey sales can advertise the apiary and sustainability and the College can use it to educate their students. She’s hoping that, by next year, she will be a certified bee keeper.

As a beekeeper, what is your opinion on the declining bee populations? Is it as serious as some might say?

The declining populations are less serious for hobbyists in Vermont than they are for commercial beekeepers who work on a bigger scale. A recent lawsuit against EPA regarding pesticides showed that lots of pesticide use (plus stress) on the bees and monocrop diets result in Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

“CCD effects those beekeeping operations that are using bees for commercial pollinating,” said Kristin. You can read more about CCD here.

Research indicates that population decline will have various adverse effects on the economy, the environment, agriculture, etc. What aspect of population decline poses the most serious threat?

Crops and agriculture get the most publicity. Native pollinators are not researched and their decline might be more serious than the decline of managed honeybees because beekeepers know how to deal with honeybee decline.

Wildflowers and meadows would ultimately disappear. More research needs to be done to prevent these things from happening. We need to see how they’ve been assessed by landscape change, farming, etc.

In what ways, if any, do small apiaries like the one at Champlain influence this larger, global phenomenon? Can small beekeeping operations make a difference?

Apiaries encourage learning. Exposure to bees increases knowledge, can help students be less afraid, and help them understand the importance of bees. They give more insights into bee life.

“There’s nothing better than standing around a hive with a bunch of students and having them peer into it and see how gentle and docile they are and how busy they are making a life for themselves.”

Many students haven’t heard of the apiary before. Is this detrimental to your efforts?

The short answer is yes. So far the apiary has been led by Kristin in a one-on-one style with help from a few students as they’ve gotten it up and running.

Is the Champlain Apiary living up to its full potential on campus?

It needs team growth. Kristin believes there are students on campus who would be a perfect fit for the apiary team whom she hasn’t found yet. They’ve been very focused on the experiential learning aspect and that part has gone well but other impacts aren’t up to full potential yet.

“There are so many other directions that this could go and so much impact it could have if we had other people on board to help with the public relations aspect of it,” said Kristin.

In your opinion, what needs to happen to solve the population problem?

Diligence. There needs to be better pesticide testing and an increase in awareness about the value of pollinators.

“The value of pollinators more than overrides anything else. These are ecosystem services that we can never gain back if they go away. Never,” said Kristin.

The public needs to change their mindset about bees. It’s a collective responsibility and citizens need to be better informed so they can advocate for changes in public policy.

Is there any way individuals can make a difference in their daily lives?

Be more aware. We need to cut down on “greenscaping” and find more creative ways to enhance our landscape without creating lawns that have no ecosystems.

“Enhancing the landscape that we live in in creative ways…is always really helpful, and more importantly understanding why you might be doing that.” No one should jump to becoming a beekeeper. It’s a lot of responsibility and it’s not quite that simple.

What would a world without bees look like?

It would be very bleak. 1/3 of our food would disappear and there would be no more flowering plants. Anything worth eating that creates a healthy diet is due to pollinators. Culinarily, our options would be bleak. We would have a very desolate landscape.

–Interview by Jessica Demarest
–Post transcribed by Kiera Hufford