By Michele McDonald
Some George Mason University students, faculty and staff schooled George Mason’s First Family in the ways of beekeeping this month when Ángel and Beth Cabrera and their children made room for nearly 60,000 honey bees at their home.
President Cabrera personally situated a queen bee into her new hive located about three miles from the Fairfax Campus.
“I love Mason’s Honey Bee Initiative,” says Beth Cabrera. “I was very concerned a few years ago when I read that honey bees were disappearing. So personally, I am thrilled to be involved in a project that promotes their preservation.”
The university’s Honey Bee Initiative, housed in New Century College (NCC), connects the classroom to the world, says German Perilla, MAIS ’12, a research fellow for bee conservation at NCC. Mason has some 40 hives––16 on the Fairfax Campus are used to educate students. Honey bee populations have plummeted worldwide due to an unexplained malady called Colony Collapse Disorder.
“I think the initiative is wonderful for Mason because it makes a positive contribution in so many areas, educating students about not just beekeeping, but sustainability and entrepreneurship, and raising awareness in the community,” Beth Cabrera says.
The Cabrera’s home, Mathy House, has a wooded area and a nearby stream. It’s a nice spot for bees to buzz around on their two-mile food foraging.
Perilla, assisted by Mason students Fiona Davies and Hatem Shannag, passed along to the Cabreras such useful tips as what not to wear and how to behave around bees. Wear light colors, for instance, because fashionable black signals a threat to bees due to all those hungry black bears.
“The best advice I have for people is to be calm around the bees,” says Davies, who’s from Yorktown and is a sophomore majoring in environmental science with a minor in geographic information systems. “They’re gentle, unless threatened, so if you’re calm and move slow, there shouldn’t be any problems.
Shannag, who graduates this May with a degree in biology, says Mason’s beekeeping class was the first time he’s worked with bees. “Rarely does one encounter an epiphany in life; mine occurred when I was first introduced to honey bees by Mr. Perilla in my ecology lab,” says the Chicago native who grew up in Irbid, Jordan. “I’ve always respected what and how they contribute to our society. Something so small working as one unit to keep the world running has always fascinated me.”
Plus, working with Mason’s First Family was a first-ever and fun experience for Shannag. “I love honey bees, so whenever I get a chance to handle bees, manage or install a new colony it’s always a great feeling for me,” he says. “Not every Mason student gets to go to the Mason president’s house. It was a great experience teaching and watching the Cabreras handle and learn about honey bees.”
Mason’s bees are finding more off-campus homes, and these hives are used for research purposes, Perilla says.
The Cabreras have four hives, six are at Merrifield Garden Center, two are in Washington, D.C., and 12 are at the home of Til Hazel, father of Mason alumnus James Hazel, chair of the George Mason University Foundation Board of Trustees. Perilla built a bear-proof fence to protect the bees (and the honey) at the Hazel property, which is about 40 miles from the Fairfax Campus.
Mason Provost Peter Stearns and his wife, Donna Kidd, also soon will be housing bees at their home.
Other staffers are helping out. Kathleen Curtis, executive assistant to the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, received the first grant for the Patriot Circle apiary, and also worked with the Cabreras. Curtis actually picked up 250,000 bees in Pennsylvania and drove them to Virginia in her car to deliver them to their new Mason homes.
There are some benefits to having honey bees as neighbors.
“I’ll also add that our son loves honey,” says Beth Cabrera. “He could eat a jar a week! So he thinks having an endless supply of honey in the backyard is pretty cool.”