City Bees RVA shares the science, history and importance of beekeeping

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – If you take a trip to the Sankofa Municipal Orchard, you’ll find more than 20,000 honey bees working together. The bees are part of a new experience in the city of Richmond called City Bees RVA.

“The Sankofa Community Orchard is a great place for honeybees. There are so many crops and flowers here,” explained beekeeper Dr Holly Freeman. “There’s so much to pollinate that helps the garden, right? If their mission is to feed people, it’s perfect to have bees here.”

Freeman works alongside local beekeeper Nikia Ellis to help demystify honey bees and educate the community about their importance.

Dr. Freeman works alongside local beekeeper Nikia Ellis to demystify honey bees and educate the public about their importance.(Dr. Holly Freeman)

“Bees collectively pollinate 80 percent of our food resources. We must protect them. Our goal is to increase the population of the honey bee, which is one of the largest pollinators,” she said.

As an educator and writer, Freeman says she has always been interested in nature. She initially approached Ellis to interview her about farming, but then discovered she was also a beekeeper. Dr. Freeman becomes Ellis’s apprentice. The two now offer City Bees RVA:

City Bees is an engaging educational program that demystifies our understanding of honey bees and helps educate the community about the importance of bees in our lives.

Urban Bees allows participants to see a hive from a “bee’s eye” through safe interaction with local bees led by two local (black, female) beekeepers. During this program, participants will gain a better understanding of beekeeping operations (including apiary inspections and hive management), the sacred history and biology of bees, the effects of weather and climate, environmental justice, and more.

City Bees is held in person at a local orchard/farm in the Metro Richmond area. The programs are held over the weekend and are followed by a tea time and Q&A with the beekeepers. Attendees will also be able to sample local honey and learn how they can support sustainability efforts in the region. Duration: approximately 90 minutes. Activity Fee: $50 per person

City Bees RVA can accommodate children (8+ years) and their families or groups of no more than 5 people. City Bees RVA also works with school groups, providing similar experiences using an observation hive where needed.

In the event of inclement weather, programming will occur the following Sunday where necessary. If rebooking isn’t an option, you can enjoy a careful study of a monitoring hive at a discounted rate.

If you take a trip to the Sankofa Municipal Orchard, you'll find more than 20,000...
If you take a trip to the Sankofa Municipal Orchard, you will find more than 20,000 honey bees working together. The bees are part of a new experience in the city of Richmond called City Bees RVA.(NBC 12)

“Bees are interesting and fun and they live in colonies, they all have jobs and work together. Could this be a metaphor for how we live together and work together?” she said.

For 90 minutes, people ages 8 and up get to put on a beekeeping costume and interact with the hive. The experience concludes with tea, snacks and a Q&A and discussion with the beekeepers.

Inspired by her work with Ellis, Freeman wrote a book called Beekeeping Besties: An Apiary Adventure.

As she’s learned more about beekeeping, Freeman says the work also has a cultural meaning and connection she hopes to share with others.

“I find that the sacredness of beekeeping goes back to ancient Egypt, and as a black woman I respond to that,” Freeman said. “It’s soothing to be here (with the bees), there’s a kind of meditative, peaceful, vibrational frequency that hits me at a very deep ancestral level.”

In ancient Egypt, hives were not in wooden boxes, but made of mud and clay. To pollinate the flowers, the hives were arranged in pyramids and traveled up and down the Nile on rafts.

For Freeman, it’s important to share the story.

“I absolutely want to share the love of beekeeping and ecology with everyone — but I especially want blacks and Hispanics and students to understand (it’s hereditary),” she explained.

Urban Bees RVA
Urban Bees RVA(NBC 12)

In the first few months of offering City Bees RVA, Freeman has seen groups of all ages get excited about the hands-on experience. She hopes people will walk away with not only new knowledge and appreciation for honeybees, but also a little more confidence in themselves.

“If you can be confident doing that, you can be confident in school, on your skateboard, when you’re in your debate club,” Freeman said. “It’s just a window into helping people get closer to things that maybe they don’t know about and carry them over to other things (in life).”

If you are interested in City Bees RVA, you can click here to register.

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