For many, the sound of buzzing and the light warm touch of a bee is a cue to jump up and run. For a few, however, the arrival of a honeybee is something to celebrate. Michael Roswell ’11, would be one of these individuals. Roswell has brought forward an unusual proposal to the Student Budget Committee: bringing roughly 100,000 honeybees to Swarthmore’s campus.
The story of Roswell’s honeybee dreams begins early: Roswell grew up surrounded by farms outside of Baltimore, MD, which he observed being purchased and parceled. He and his family then decided to attempt to use their own property as farm land, planting fruit trees. “I realized, I’d need honeybees,” he explains.
Pleased by the success and relative simplicity of beekeeping at home, he then tried the idea at his high school, the Park School of Baltimore, which met with success as well.
Encouraged by this, Roswell is now working with the Good Food Project to bring honeybees to Swarthmore. Over the past year, he has been in communication with arboretum staff, Grounds Director Jeff Jabco, Linda McDougal of Dining Services and, through McDougal, Noah, the local beekeeper who provides Sharples’ honey.
Honeybees have been making headlines for the past few years, ever since the discovery in 2006 that beekeepers were losing between 30 and 60 percent of their bees. Some of the suggested causes have included poor nutrition, pesticides, cell phones, inbreeding, viruses, and parasites.
This “Colony Collapse Disorder,” in which bees leave the hive and never return, could have potentially great consequences, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that bees pollinate $15 billion of crops annually including fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
The Good Food project, which also runs the organic student garden and composting projects, is supporting Roswell in his proposal, though they are unable to fund the bee project.
Jean Dahlquist ’11 of the Good Food project assisted Roswell in preparing the proposal and is excited about the Good Food project’s involvement. “Having bees on campus is… yet another step towards Swarthmore providing a lot of its own food.” Good Food members would likely be involved in caring for the bees during the school year and over the summer.
The proposal would place two hives behind Cornell, and Roswell’s timeline suggests that construction could begin in February for the bees to arrive during spring break. “Bees are low maintenance,” he explains. “It’s only a few hours a week, though initially they require a little more work as they get a new queen and food store.”
Though his proposal is still under consideration as liability issues are investigated, Roswell is optimistic, observing that most students he has spoken with have been enthusiastic. Concerns about stinging, he reflects, are “not much of a concern,” particularly for Pennsylvania honeybees, purportedly less aggressive than honeybees from other parts of the world.
“I know beekeepers who are allergic and keep bees,” he reflects. “If you approach calmly and don’t try to squish them, they don’t sting back.”