Network of Bees

Network of Bees

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By: Russ Campbell

There is a lot to learn from bees. The survival of the hive depends on the combined efforts of the entire colony. In Conetoe (pronounced KUH-nee-tah), North Carolina Reverend Richard Joyner and his family of youth beekeepers are tending to bees and building community, one hive at a time.

Reverend Joyner is the force behind the Conetoe Family Life Center, created to address the fact that in one year, he conducted more than 30 funerals for people under 50 who had died from chronic disease. 30 funerals. For a community of 300.

Family and community are core to Joyner, but farming…not so much. The son of a sharecropper who grew up working these lands only to turn the profits over to those who owned the dirt, he fled to the armed services, happily away from the farm.

But he was called back to eastern North Carolina. He was called to tend people.  And the resource he had available to him? The land.  So he answered that call and started a new approach to ministry, from the ground up. Providing his parishioners with healthy food, teaching children how to grow and prepare food, how to run a business, and how to build community.

Bees pollinate many crops in the United States. Credit: USDA (CC BY 2.0)

And the bees?  He wanted nothing to do with them. That was all the kids.

“They insisted we have bees.  I said no.  So we put it to a vote.  And I lost.” says Joyner

There was a student who could tell the mood of the hive by the smell. On the school bus converted to a mobile beehive pollination machine the Reverend Richard Joyner tells me that if the student smelled bananas, to stay away.  That’s bee pheromone for danger.

“I could never tell the difference so I just stayed away period,” Joyner laughs.  “But this was a special student.”

The bees are a strong family network, Joyner tells me.  This sense of the family is important to Joyner, something he felt growing up one of thirteen children, and something he sees as critical for bee development and for human development, the ultimate goal of the Conetoe Family Life Center.

And even with his aversion to bees, it almost seems as if he has modeled his operation off of the honey bee network.  His ministry reaches far beyond its physical location and far beyond the walls of a church.  His master beekeeper, Mr. Berry Hines, teaches classes at the nearby Martin Millennial Magnet School – where 40 students use their free hour during the school day to learn the ins and out of beekeeping.

One of his master beekeepers is thirteen-year-old Tatiana.  She came to the program when she was eight.  Today, she teaches students her own age the art of beekeeping, some of whom are progressing on the path to becoming master beekeepers.  Joyner’s network extends to gardens in other towns, other churches, corporations, farms, colleges and universities in North Carolina.

The bees are an important source of income to the Conetoe Gardens—honey and bees provide products such as lip balm. Additionally, the bus where Joyner told me about the banana smell is a mobile unit, designed to pollinate fields across the county. One drawback to the bus?  When the bus comes to a stop, the bees tend to roam, which is not a good thing if you pull up next to a convertible.  The bus is under some modifications to address this issue but in the meantime, it only travels at night for coolness and less angry motorists. But I will suggest, if you pull up next to it, to close the ragtop.

As a citizen scientist, you can participate in projects like “Butterflies and Moths of North America”

After Hurricane Matthew, Conetoe lost a third of its beehives.  Flooding in Conetoe and its garden brought rot to the hives.  The resilient Joyner raised awareness and a campaign to rebuild the bee boxes and through donations and volunteer hours now has the bee hives and their populations back up to pre-Matthew numbers. Conetoe has 100 beehives, 650,000 bees, more than 700 pounds of honey, and, like the bees, one mission-to build a thriving community.

Citizen science offers multiple opportunities to support community and research on many topics of interest.  That includes bees and other pollinators! You can visit SciStarter to browse all these opportunities. Get started and make an impact in your community today!


SciStarter contributor Russ Campbell is senior communications officer at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in Durham, N.C.

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