Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Former coal miners train as beekeepers to earn extra cash

Former miner James Scyphers works with
bees. (Photo by Kevin Johnson
With mining jobs in decline, many coal miners need to find new ways to make a living. One possibility: beekeeping. In West Virginia, the state with the lowest labor-force participation in the country, the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective has been training former miners to build hives and tend bees, Jodi Helmer reports for NPR. The program is open to all the more than 28 percent of West Virginia residents at or below the federal poverty rate.

There's a bit of irony in how the project came about: the nonprofit Appalachian Headwaters, which operates the collective in 17 West Virginia counties, "was formed in 2016 to invest a $7.5 million settlement from a lawsuit against coal mine operator Alpha Natural Resources for violations of the Clean Water Act," Helmer reports. "The money has been used to fund environmental restoration projects and to develop sustainable economic opportunities in the once-thriving coal-mining communities of West Virginia."

The nonprofit has trained 35 beekeepers and has another 50 signed up for classes set to begin soon. Everyone who graduates from the free introductory class gets equipment and bees for free or at a reduced cost and gets access to ongoing training and mentorship, Helmer reports.

Last year was the first season in which beekeepers in the program maintained their own hives, but they'll have to wait until spring to collect the first honey. ABC will collect, bottle, and sell the honey and pay them for their harvest. The delightfully named Cindy Bee, a master beekeeper with Headwaters, says a good hive can produce 60 to 100 pounds of honey per season, selling for an average retail price of $7.32. "With multiple hives, that can add up quickly: Twenty hives could mean nearly $15,000 per season. There are also opportunities to produce candles, lip balm and other wax products with additional training offered through the organization," Young reports.

Beekeeping expertise could also come in handy if any of the new beekeepers are not averse to a road trip and want to tap into demand for bees as pollinators for crops. Renting out bees for pollination services now nets beekeepers more money than raising them for honey.

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