A day for pollinators in prisons

Text by Dr. Jody Becker Green, Acting Secretary, Washington State Department of Corrections, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Between sessions, Bee Summit participants posed for a group photo.

Superintendent Dona Zavislan welcomed the summit guests to Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW).

On Friday March 3, SPP partners filled the gymnasium at Washington Corrections Center for Women for a summit on beekeeping programs in prisons. About 125 expert, apprentice, and novice beekeepers spent the day sharing best practices for rebuilding pollinator populations. We also shared the delights of working with honeybees and other pollinatorsthese social insects and plant-pollinator relationships served as lovely metaphors for productivity and mutual support.

During the summit, eight beekeeping students received their apprentice-level certification. The host prison offers beekeeping education within the Horticulture program taught by Ed Tharp (pictured with microphone), and as a complementary program instructed by Carrie Little, the founder of Mother Earth Farm. The apprentice beekeeper shown is Candace Ralston.

The agenda was packed, and covered everything from equipment safety to food justice to native pollinator habitat needs. Other highlights are described in photos throughout this article.

Lonniesha Veasey, an incarcerated beekeeper and Horticulture Teaching Assistant, shares her thoughts and questions during the summit.

The day ended with spring rain pounding on the gymnasium roof, and generous outpourings from incarcerated beekeepers, expert beekeepers, and leadership from the Washington State’s Department of Corrections (WA Corrections). Anticipating release in just a few days, an incarcerated woman reflected on her years in prison: she said that horticulture programs had become her reason to get up in the morning, and meant that she now has plans for her future. SPP’s co-director Steve Sinclair praised the event, and said, “We invited magical people here, so let’s go make magic!” A Massachusetts beekeeper, Susan Goldwitz, told the group that we are like bees, turning dust into sweet, liquid gold.

Staff came from all 12 WA Corrections’ prisons, and were joined by experienced beekeepers from across the state, incarcerated beekeepers, SPP-Evergreen staff and students, biologists, and other community partners and topic experts.

The current head of WA Corrections, Jody Becker-Green, gave final remarks. She thanked everyone in the room for the part they played in the summit, and in developing and offering pollinator programs in prisons. She described her own love of beekeeping, and the feeling in the room while she spoke was transcendent. An excerpt is offered here.

I am probably the last person you want up here doing closing remarks for this summit because I could talk about bees and beekeeping for hours!

I offer my deepest gratitude and appreciation to all of you, for the travel and schedule coordination it took to give a day to this event. Your generosity of time and spirit is remarkable. The only way programs like these are possible is through the many contributions each of you is willing to make. The fact that you keep showing up with your ideas, optimism, and creativity is an incredible gift to the prison community, and to the communities beyond the fence as well.

Acting Secretary Dr. Jody Becker-Green shared love for honeybees—their many impressive and amazing attributes—and brought a beautiful closing to the day’s events.

As we have learned today, bees are quite simply amazing creatures, whether they are the little solitary bees, living their relatively simple lives, or honeybees, thriving in incredibly complex, interwoven and democratic societal structures.

Next to humans, honeybees are perhaps the most widely studied creatures in nature. Throughout the years, research has demonstrated that a honeybee colony is instinctively able to organize itself into a super-efficient society. Honeybee colonies provide profound lessons in democracy, communication, teamwork, and decision-making that we may all be wise to learn from. I know that I have learned a lot from watching and studying the bees that make their home on my property and try to apply those lessons to leading a complex agency.

One of my favorite books, Honeybee Democracy, written by Thomas D. Seeley, describes how honeybee colonies make decisions both collectively and democratically. Seeley says that every year, faced with the life or death problems of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building. The level of sophistication, communication, trust and connection that occurs within a hive is almost hard to comprehend.

Fruit trays spelled out SPP appreciation and, so fittingly, displayed fruits that rely on pollinators for reproduction. The summit was well supported by WCCWs event crew and staff members who provided a delicious and gorgeous spread of snacks, and decorated the gymnasium with flowers and banners.

My love for bees began about eight years ago after making a visit to Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). At the time, I was working for the Department of Social and Health Services and was interested in learning more about the sustainability efforts underway within the Department of Corrections. After spending a great deal of time with the beekeepers at CCCC, I was hooked. It was only a matter of months before I become a beekeeper and achieved my certification.

Throughout the years, bees have become highly symbolic for me. I have found a much deeper meaning in the art of beekeeping beyond the ecological value they have in sustaining our ecosystems. Let me share just a few examples of this meaning with you.

Bees enter the world with distinct roles and commitment to the greater good. The spirit of the bee has a strong work ethic as they literally will work themselves to death, however, they also know the importance of stopping to smell and enjoy the flowers they are able to find the delicate balance between the two. With competing demands and priorities balance between work and life, balance is not always easy to attain and maintain. I constantly remind myself and others of the importance of balance for overall personal and professional health and well-being in order to be the best version of self in all that we do.

Bees play a very specific role in nature pollinating other plants. This is necessary to the on-going life cycle of many crops. An end result of pollination is the provision of honey and wax that is enjoyed by many, thus adding to their value. Einstein believed so deeply in the importance of bees to the ecosystem that he predicted if bees disappeared humans would not survive more than four years afterward.

The pollination process also symbolizes our social nature of interdependency and mutual benefit. Bees live and work as a community. As they go from flower to flower, that progression enriches the world.

SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair acknowledges the composting crew at Washington State Reformatory as an example of the creativity and excellence achievable in a program.

Bees work with a spirit of cooperation, working cohesively for the good of their community. They show us the importance of both teamwork and communication in their day-to-day lives.

Bees are also strong protectors and defenders of that which is important to them. They are willing to give their life in defense of whatever mission prevails. As humans, we are anchored in core values and beliefs and will also defend that which we hold to be true in our words, actions and deeds.

Finally, while bees struggle with daunting environmental challenges, they show us about perseverance and resiliency. They support each other to overcome adversities, and it is that bravery, trust, and effort, that makes usand much of the life on earthable to depend on them.

 

Most of the funding for the event came from a generous donation from the Seattle Foundation to partners at The Evergreen State College. The Seattle Foundation has supported SPP annually for multiple years, and their support has made a real difference in what programs are able to achieve.

Thank you to Mann Lake, Betterbee, and Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, beekeeping suppliers who donated gifts for summit attendees.

Numerous partners helped make the event a success. From left to right: Evergreen graduate students covered presentation IT and note taking; WCCW’s event crew (red t-shirts) were our logistical hosts, ran the sound system, and made the space beautiful and functional; Felice Davis and Joslyn Rose Trivett MC’ed and coordinated the program, and Jeremy Barclay worked with KOMO 4 to produce a video about the summit.

More coverage of the summit and beekeeping in prisons programs:

Three expert and influential beekeepers share a moment at the conference. Beekeeping associations have given essential support to prison programs, and tell us that incarcerated beekeepers are invaluable to pollinator recovery in the state. From left to right: Gary Clueit, President of Washington State Beekeepers Assocation (WASBA); Laurie Pyne, Master Beekeeper and President of Olympia Beekeepers Association; and Ellen Miller, Vice President of WASBA.

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