Local Beekeeper Helps Kids Experience Their Food Ecosystem Firsthand

Local Beekeeper Helps Kids Experience Their Food Ecosystem Firsthand

Stan Holt, a volunteer beekeeper at Durham Public Schools’ Hub Farm, shows students how bees promote the growth of their fruits and veggies

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Stan Holt helps to grow the bee population at Durham Public Schools’ Hub Farm. Photo by Briana Brough

Food insecurity is a reality for more than 50% of the children in Durham Public Schools (DPS). They qualify for the free or reduced price lunch programs and often have little connection to where fresh food comes from. This is one problem Stan Holt works on as a vice president at the United Way of the Greater Triangle. “My job is to explore how we can end generational poverty.” And so Stan, a man without children of his own, came to be the monthly volunteer beekeeper at the DPS Hub Farm.

TAKE IT OUTSIDE

Katherine Gill and Rick Sheldahl started the DPS Hub Farm five years ago with a 30-acre plot in north Durham behind the Eno Valley Elementary School. Rick, the career and technical education director for DPS, had the funds that could start the farm, where kids from all grade levels could be exposed to experiential learning about agriculture, food systems and natural science. The farm has gardens, chickens, a watershed area with a floating lab, compost section and beehives.

Kids visit the farm and learn that food does not magically appear at the store. “One popular field trip is ‘seed to belly’ where kids harvest food, cook a healthy dish as a team and take a recipe home,” Katherine explains. Northern High School students in the culinary arts and agriculture programs come to the farm once a week to work and harvest bounty from the gardens to take back to school to cook.

The farm might have started with funds from DPS, but running a sizable farm takes manpower, and volunteers were needed to help pull weeds and turn soil. A volunteer program on the first Saturday of the month was put in place, and that is how Stan first came to visit the Hub Farm. “I was interested in learning how feeding programs were working in the community and came to volunteer one Saturday to pull weeds in the strawberry patch,” he says. That was when Stan, an amateur at-home beekeeper, saw the hives at the Hub Farm.

“I saw that the bees needed tending and volunteered to clean up the two hives.” Katherine realized Stan had more expertise in beekeeping than the average volunteer, and she asked him to help nurture their budding colony.

START SMALL, THINK BIG

So began Stan’s monthly care of the farm’s hives. “Keeping bees is important to aid in pollination, especially for the cucumbers, squash and strawberry crops,” Stan says. “It takes a couple of years for a hive to become productive enough to make enough honey to sustain themselves over the winter and then make surplus. Right now we are just trying to maintain and grow a colony that can last over a winter.”

Stan also volunteers at the Duke Campus Farm – a one-acre working farm that provides produce to campus dining halls and CSA members, as well as works with Duke classes across the academic spectrum – with their bees and has since become a member of the Durham County Beekeepers Association. “I am impressed with the Hub Farm in the way they are engaging kids to learn about growing and cooking food. The bees are a small but important part of the food production.”

In that way, Stan is much like a bee himself: One volunteer out of many who helps keep the ecosystem of the farm working. Kids who visit may not always get a chance to meet Stan, but he is there promoting the growth of every veggie and fruit they get to taste.