You may or may not have been aware that the U of T community is buzzing with a significant bee population — as well as a human one. The presence of our fuzzy friends, however, is no reason for alarm. The bees are maintained by the U of T Bees Education Enthusiast Society (U of T B.E.E.S.), a student club whose goal is to educate students and the community on beekeeping practices and the crucial role that bees have in a healthy ecosystem. U of T B.E.E.S. currently manages four hives on top of the Faculty Club building and three hives on the roof of Trinity College.
“[U of T B.E.E.S.] provides an opportunity to educate communities outside of [the] U of T student body,” says Naomi Alon, the U of T B.E.E.S president. “Having that open outreach allows for U of T to establish themselves as more than a postsecondary school and more of a part of [the] Toronto community.” The new Worker BEES program by U of T B.E.E.S. is an opportunity for more students to attend workshops, speeches, and meetings held by The Urban Toronto Beekeepers Association. The club also hosts lip balm making tutorials, documentary viewings, and hive tours during the warmer seasons.
“[Worker BEES] gives access for young people to look into a whole new industry and problems in ecosystems and agriculture and it is also a networking opportunity” says hive manager officer, Theri Reichlin. Spring and summer are when the U of T B.E.E.S. are the busiest. Training begins for new students on the basics of urban beekeeping, such as hive maintenance and honey extraction.
Although the U of T B.E.E.S. is a light-hearted group where students can share their love of bees, the meetings also emphasize the importance that bees play in the environment and the agricultural district. There is speculation that a type of insecticide called neonicotinoid is to blame for the mass decline in the bee population in North America. This is known as colony collapse disorder, when most of the worker bees of a colony disappear.
Alon says that “it is in [our] best interest to acknowledge the role that bees play as a keystone species in the ecosystem.” Bees play an integral, niche role as pollinators in food production and security in North America. It was noted at the last U of T B.E.E.S. annual meeting that the decline of bee population is not only an environmental issue, but also an economic and agricultural issue.
U of T B.E.E.S. is among one of the first urban beekeeping student clubs in Canada. During the peak seasons in the summer, there can range between 60,000 and 80,000 bees per rooftop colony. Alon’s favourite aspect of the club is that it provides “an opportunity to learn about food production and how bees are an integral component to agriculture.” For more information on becoming more involved with the U of T B.E.E.S, you can visit their website.