As a child I would walk through my Mother’s wildflower garden and direct my gaze not to the brightly colored and aromatic flowers, but to the many busy bees focusing on extracting every drop of nectar in the plant. However, as the years went by, I would notice fewer buzzing bees wizzing by my head. I would soon discover that the disappearance the bees was due to the rampant use of pesticides used agriculture killing them off. The use of pesticides is counterintuitive for the farmers because it kills the pollinators such as the honeybee which help their plants produce their crop. Knowing this backstory behind the issue with honeybees compelled me to start volunteering two years ago at a local apiary when I was given the opportunity. Summer Beez is an apiary located in Berlin, MA where millions of honeybees are being housed and protected, giving them the opportunity to survive and thrive while also helping the nearby farms by supplying pollinators
The work I was doing while working at the Summer Beez apiary included constructing hives, as well as maintaining the living hives that are home to the honey bees on the apiary. The apiary receives wood cutouts of each part of the hives (box, frames, etc.) and part of what the apiary does is constructing these hives from the wood cutouts. Once completed they are for sale to smaller backyard beekeepers who want to start a hive. I assisted in constructing many of the hundreds of hives, each composed of 1-4 boxes with each box containing 8-10 frames as well as other smaller parts (the frames are what the honey bees build off of to hold honey/eggs). Along with constructing the hives, the apiary also has over 25 of its own mature hives to take care of which can supply hundreds of pounds of pure organic honey, and many more immature hives to be sold to customers. In order for the colonies of honey bees so survive and thrive the hives must be properly maintained, which is where a lot of my volunteering came in. In order to maintain the hives I would need to feed the bees a sugar water weekly or biweekly depending on the how productive the bees were destined to be; check the frames of different hives intermittently in order to observe their progress and make alterations to the hive if need be; and finally to retrieve the full honey frames that are ready to have its pure honey extracted for sale. As you could imagine this is not such an easy task because you have to wear full bodied bee protective apparel in the blazing summer sun, all the while trying not to disturb the hive to prevent being bombarded with angry stingers.
At the time the first motive that I had to volunteer with the apiary was because I had thought it would be really cool to work with bees and maybe I could try to cover myself with a suit of bees such as I’ve seen on Animal Planet. Although this was my first instinctive motive, I also knew from my own observations and experience viewing the bees in my mom’s wildflower garden that honeybees are disappearing and have become an endangered species. I found out from reading online and talking with the apiary that by raising your own honey bee hives, you can help save the species from its decline. I knew that if I could volunteer with the apiary I couldn help save the honey bees from decline, all the while indirectly helping the many local farms by supplying pollinators, which would otherwise have been in decline creating a possible problem with agricultural production. In my mind I was helping my community by slowing down the decline of honey bees which would help produce crops to be consumed in the community. However, at times I found it frustrating to do all the work in the heat only for a few bee stings, and not even be able to directly see the progress the apiary is making to help save the honey bee by maintaining their hives. Yet, I know that the volunteer work I completed is helping because without the apiary, there would not be tens of millions of honey bees in the local farming community, which I can only expect to not have a good impact on the farms.
In light of the distinctions Susan B. Cipolle made between service, service-learning, and critical service-learning, I can conclude that what I did was solely community service. Although I am happy with what I accomplished in my volunteering and know that it has a part in helping the honey bees, I am a little disappointed because after reading what critical service-learning is, I know I could have adapted my service to critical service learning easily. I could have taken it the extra mile by taking samples of the crops over a few seasons to see the impact the honey bees have on the local farming. If a positive correlation is seen between crop production and honey bee population, I could create public service announcements detailing the endangerment honey bees face, and how simply owning your own hive and taking care of it such as your own pet can help combat the honey bee decline and help farmers keep their all important pollinators. This would have been a perfect opportunity for critical service-learning that can still be done when I head back next summer.
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