Learning to bee in a buzzing local industry

Tue, Jun 7, 2016

Metro Vancouver, B.C. – There has never been more buzz around local food, regional food security and healthy eating. Yet B.C. imports thousands of hives – about a half billion bees – each year to sustain the region’s agricultural practices, says John Gibeau, president of Surrey's Honeybee Centre.

“Over the past 10 years, there has been a shortage of bees each season to satisfy the demand for blueberry pollination in the Lower Mainland. There is also a high demand for ‘locally’ produced honey all around North America. Consumers want local bee products but beekeepers can’t currently meet consumer demands,” said Gibeau, who is the instructor of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s (KPU) commercial beekeeping program.

“At the Honeybee Centre, we are consistently short by as much as 1,500 hives annually for local blueberry growers.”

In response to a wide and pressing demand for bees – and those with the skills to care for them – KPU launched the province’s first commercial beekeeping program earlier this year.

With 11 months of theory and practical training, students exit the program with the skills to manage up to 300 colonies – a venture that could provide sufficient income to support a family.

“My daughter and I were just finishing our last year of homeschooling and wondering what to do next. I was thinking of getting bees for my garden,” explained Christine Pawsey, a Surrey resident and mother of three. “We came home from delivering newspapers one day and there in the paper was KPU’s beekeeping program.”

“I realized it could be a career, not just a hobby,” added Pawsey, who is currently enrolled in the program.

For Casey Aelbers, the chance to start her own business in an industry with lots of demand was appealing.

“The first time you step into a bee yard all geared up in your suit with veil and gloves and thousands of bees flying around you in what seems like chaos is absolutely magical. It's an exciting experience but also even more rewarding after having learned about their biology and their interactions with flowers and trees,” Aelbers said, adding that she plans to operate her own small-scale commercial operation after graduating from the program.

KPU’s program runs in three sessions that mirror the annual apiculture cycle in British Columbia. From January to May, students study topics such as honeybee biology and integrated pest management. They are also exposed to trades skills involved in beekeeping: carpentry, forklift operation and welding.

Over the summer, students participate in either a full-time paid work experience with an established commercial beekeeper in Western Canada, or they participate in a part-time work term with KPU and the Honeybee Centre.  From September to December, students learn the business skills needed to operate their own business.

This week, learners of all ages are invited to attend KPU’s commercial beekeeping information session at the university’s Langley campus June 9from 7-9 p.m. Registration is required and can be done here.

KPU’s commercial beekeeping program, in partnership with the Honeybee Centre, is funded in part by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture through programs delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C. It’s also funded in part by Western Economic Diversification Canada and Project Apis. m, in partnership with Costco USA. To learn more, visit kpu.ca/cps/commercial-beekeeping.

Applications for the January 2017 intake of the program are open and can be accessed here. Up to 24 students will be admitted to the program.

Thursday, June 9 from 7-9 p.m.
WHERE: Room 1030, KPU Langley, 20901 Langley Bypass
INFO: Registration is required and can be done here. For questions, contact Alyssa Purse at alyssa.purse@kpu.ca or 604-599-2996.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has served the Metro Vancouver region since 1981, and has opened doors to success for more than 200,000 learners. Four campuses—Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley—offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs in business, liberal arts, design, health, science and horticulture, trades and technology, and academic and career advancement. Over 19,000 students annually have a choice from over 120 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates, citations and apprenticeships. Learn more at kpu.ca.    

Media contact:
Hayley Woodin
Media Specialist
t: 604.599.2883
c: 604.364.1288

For more KPU news: