By Maria Drews, OFS volunteer
Over the past two years, Legacy conservation crews at Operation Fresh Start have been partnering with the City of Madison to build and care for several bee colonies. This holiday season, their hard work has turned into over 127 pounds of honey, delivered to Operation Fresh Start participants, the City of Madison mayor’s office, and residents of a local shelter for the homeless.
When the City of Madison wanted to start a new beekeeping project on Madison’s southwest side, the OFS Conservation crew was a natural choice of partner. The crew had already been providing invasive species control and native seed collection at the Nesbitt Pond site, and they were ready to take on the new task of beekeeping. “My crew, everybody had a good attitude about it,” said OFS crew member Kobea’ Baker, “I think everybody wanted to play a part in it.”
The project initially started with five starter beehives and has grown to ten large hives. By building and painting the hives themselves, the OFS crew was able to save the city money on the project.
OFS participants also had the chance to learn beekeeping skills from an experienced beekeeper, doing regular bee checks, caring for the land around the hives, harvesting the honey, and purifying and bottling the honey. “I wasn’t nervous at all. I was eager,” said Kobea’ about his first bee check. “I got in the bee suit like two or three times. I went to the site where the hives are a bunch of times. I would go over by the bees to feel the good energy. It’s fascinating.”
By making labels for the bottles and exploring avenues to sell and distribute the honey, they learned about small business ownership and some of the challenges of agricultural production and sales. “We spent so much time [producing the honey], I wanted to get it out there, get it to charity,” said Kobea’. Ultimately, the crew decided to donate honey to city residents experiencing homelessness.
Operation Fresh Start’s Conservation Crew has been crucial to the care of urban green spaces around Madison. “We really couldn’t maintain these spaces without the work of the Operation Fresh Start team,” says Maddie Dumas, the City of Madison partner on the project. “We only have two city employees doing conservation work on these lands. OFS is crucial to helping us maintain native plant diversity.” Now the land at Nesbitt Pond not only provides storm water storage, recreation, and wildlife habitat, but thanks to the work of the OFS crew, it has become an urban agricultural production site providing honey to the community this holiday season.
To see more about this project and catch some of the OFS Conservation Crew in progress, check out this video from the City of Madison: