There are many people in Pittsburgh that are concerned with the environment. There are farmer’s markets across the city, and grocery stores strive to provide affordable, organic fruits and veggies. Many key buildings like the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Carnegie Mellon University’s Stever House, and the Giant Eagle Market District in Shadyside are LEED certified, and it has never been easier to recycle. Still, that’s not enough for many Pittsburgh residents. To produce a greener city, more and more people are getting their buzz from beekeeping.
In the winter of 2008, a group of beekeepers led by Meredith Grelli had a vision to create a community organization called Burgh Bees to promote urban beekeeping through information sessions and beekeeping classes. In order to actually make this happen though, Meredith and her team needed funding. To accomplish this they applied to The Sprout Fund for a Seed Award for the funds necessary to offer classes on how to keep bees, start a website, and establish at least four hives in Pittsburgh. Seed Awards are only granted to innovative projects that promise to bring positive change to the city and improve the lives of its inhabitants. Naturally, the vision of this grassroots group of beekeepers piqued Sprout’s interest. Burgh Bees received its award, and a year later they had already taught a ten-class course on beekeeping with 35 students and a quickly growing waitlist, established four apiaries in different neighborhoods with a total of eight hives, and built a website to provide the community with easier access information about classes and beekeeping in general.
Now Burgh Bees is a local nonprofit organization that teaches people how to keep bees through classes and workshops, helps beekeepers from Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas get in touch with each other, and provides Pittsburghers with delicious, local honey. Since those first classes in 2009, Burgh Bees has trained over 200 new beekeepers, and the organization boasts over 160 dues-paying members. The main program of Burgh Bees is their classes, called Beekeeping in the Classroom. The organization also has bragging rights for establishing the country’s first community apiary to provide people with space to cultivate their own hives. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Burgh Bees also regularly holds beekeeper meet ups in the city and the surrounding communities of Allegheny County for beekeepers from all over Southwestern Pennsylvania to gather and discuss the intricacies of their craft.
Bees provide more than just honey. They are also a valuable part of our ecosystem, carrying pollen from flower to flower so that our plant life can reproduce. This fact is not lost on either Burgh Bees or Sprout. With an alarming decline in the honey bee population over the past few years, Burgh Bees’s mission has taken on a new level of urgency. In the words of current Burgh Bees president Joe Zgurzynski, “We need honey bees! Without honey bees to pollinate food crops we would lose all the color and vitality of our diet. Urban beekeepers have the opportunity to practice a unique branch of agriculture that is critical to our food supply.” For more information on Burgh Bees, or to find out how best to acquire a jar of their deliciously gooey honey, check out their website at www.burghbees.com, and look out for their new workshop on rearing bee queens coming in May 2012.