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Honey of a story

Lakota youth beekeepers are traveling from South Dakota to Ashland this weekend to tell the story of their venture and sell their honey.

Honey Lodge Youth Enterprise will be at the sixth annual Oregon Honey (& Mead) Festival being held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at the Ashland Elks Lodge, 255 E. Main St., Ashland. Seven students from middle school, high school and college are on the trip along with five adults.

The genesis of the group came at a time when the plight of pollinators and colony collapse were getting a lot of attention, said Marla BullBear, director of the nonprofit Lakota Youth Development Programs, who is making the journey.

“We started about four years ago. We actually invited a local beekeeper to come to talk about bees,” said BullBear. “That’s what interested (the students) to do beekeeping. They wanted to help the bees.”

The group had been scheduled to attend last year’s festival, held in August, but canceled because they had planned to camp, and wildfire smoke was thick in the Rogue Valley at that time.

“I was really interested in their cultural view of bees and beekeeping,” said Sharon Schmidt, founder of Cascade Girl Organization, which puts on the festival. “(It) is fascinating, because they regard bees and other animals as their relatives, which leads to a holistic view of the environment.”

The students are from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Todd County, which ranks as the second-poorest county in the country, according to the group’s website. About 58 percent of people younger than 18 live below the poverty level, and the high school graduation rate is about 33 percent.

“It’s all based on their interests and their initiative,” said BullBear. “They designed the label, they came up with the name, they do the beekeeping, the bottling and the online sales.”

The project started with three hives. Hive numbers now fluctuate between 25 and 50, said BullBear. Besides a primary location with about 25 hives, some students tend hives at home. About 20 students are involved in the core group, while another 25 students work with the team periodically.

Last winter took a toll on the program. A combination of flooding, a bomb cyclone and icy weather resulted in the loss of 25 hives. Ten more hives at student homes also were lost to the bad weather.

Using social media, the group reached out for help and found a new partner willing to assist and to allow time to do rebuild operations before receiving payment for the bees, said BullBear. Proceeds from the honey sales are normally used to help finance summer programs.

BullBear said she doesn’t know of any similar program in the nation that uses honeybees as a way of involving youth.

Group members are tentatively scheduled to perform tribal dances on Ashland’s downtown plaza between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday. The dances will move to the Elks Lodge in the event of inclement weather. Festival offerings include honey and mead sampling, live music, classes and sale of honey and honey-based products.

Cascade Girl Organization will hold the first Feminine Legacy Beekeeping Conference from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Pioneer Hall, 73 Winburn Way. The conference will feature a number of speakers, including BullBear. A keynote speech will be given by Elina L. Nino, director of the Honey Bee Lab at University of California, Davis.

Tickets to the festival will be available at the door and on Eventbrite. Tickets for the conference are also on Eventbrite. For more details, see www.eventbrite.com. Information about the Lakota project can be found at www.lakotahoneylodge.org.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboombwriter@gmail.com.

Lakota youth beekeepers from South Dakota will perform tribal dances on Ashland’s downtown Plaza between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday during the Oregon Honey (& Mead) Festival.
Lakota youth beekeepers from South Dakota will share their experiences working with bees during the Oregon Honey (& Mead) Festival Saturday at the Ashland Elks Lodge.