MacEwan University Hives Show the Potential of Urban Beekeeping

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By Brieanne Graham

When it comes to the food industry, there are many initiatives that help ensure we produce enough food to feed future generations, especially with a growing world population. This includes maintaining populations of pollinators, including bees, as they play a crucial role in our food system through supporting plant reproduction.

Edmontonians are stepping up to do their part, as permits for urban beekeeping have increased dramatically since the City of Edmonton amended the by-law in 2015. Among those permits was the one that led to the launch of MacEwan University’s Urban Beekeeping Project in 2016, which is led by its Office of Sustainability and Campus Services.

Created in 2009 to develop sustainability initiatives across campus, the Office of Sustainability is a small office. However through a partnership with Campus Services and a diverse portfolio, it continues to grow and sees success through campus integration and public engagement.

That success includes the results from the bee hives on the rooftop of Building 5 at MacEwan’s downtown campus. With the help of Edmonton and Area Land Trust, beekeeper Troy Donovan and Campus Services director Kris Bruckmann, the hives are thriving and the honey is a popular product with Edmontonians.

“We are really excited about this project because we’re already seeing it grow significantly. We started with four rooftop hives last year, along with a hotel for solitary bees, and produced around 80 pounds of honey,” said Kerstyn Lane, the Office’s Engagement and Outreach Advisor. “This year, we added two hives and were able to produce roughly 300 pounds.”

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MacEwan uses flow hives, which uses technology that makes harvesting honey easier, as the beekeepers can tell when honey is ready through a clear end-frame viewing section. Using this kind of hive also means that there is no expensive processing equipment required. Meanwhile, the majority of the honey is sold through the University’s honey sale each fall. The proceeds of these sales go to the MacEwan University Food Security Fund, which supports food-related sustainability initiatives on campus.

However, Kerstyn was quick to add that this project is about more than providing MacEwan honey as a local option for Edmontonians.

“Colony collapse is a worldwide problem, as populations continue to decline due to habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change,” she said. “These hives are our way of trying to keep those losses from becoming insurmountable, especially our bee hotel, which provides a home for solitary bees that have lost their hives.”

Those efforts include keeping the hives habitable during Edmonton winters, as winter conditions can also lead to colony collapse.

“By pushing our hives together, bees shiver around the queen to keep the heat inside. We also wrap them in padding with ventilation with sugar water for food and pollen patties that provide the bees with protein,” said Kerstyn.

As the project moves forward, the Office of Sustainability wants to grow its community partnerships, which includes a potential partnership with Edmonton Public Schools. Kerstyn hopes that MacEwan could host beekeeping training opportunities or open up the chance for student volunteers to assist in beekeeping.

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“In the future, we would love to help encourage people to try urban beekeeping for themselves. For while Edmonton’s local food movement continues to grow, people are also interested in growing their own food,” she said. “Urban beekeeping is and will continue to be a great option because it has a positive impact on our environment and results in delicious honey that everyone can enjoy. We also hope our honey and beehives show Edmontonians what they can do to help enhance food sustainability in their backyard.”

Check out the Office of Sustainability’s webpage to learn more about this initiative and more, or go directly to the Urban Beekeeping Project’s webpage.

Eat Alberta

Edmonton, Canada