Building the Buzz around Beekeeping in Healthcare

A Nourish interview with Travis Durham.

Travis Durham is the Manager of Food & Nutrition Services at Grove Park Home in Ontario, and also one of our Nourish innovators. Travis is working on an exciting project where he is collaborating with a local beekeeper to set up beehives in his long-term care home.

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 Grove Park Home's first beehive set up on the institution's campus.  Source: Travis Durham

Grove Park Home's first beehive set up on the institution's campus. Source: Travis Durham

What inspired this beekeeping project? When did this project start and where are you now? 

The idea of ‘on-campus’ beekeeping was a pipe dream for me back in late 2016. It came up when I was initially interviewed to be a member of the Nourish cohort and I was brainstorming ideas on how food can be produced within my organization, a long-term nursing care home. I first considered a garden program, but then felt it was something that other organizations may have already mastered. I wanted to do something a little more challenging like running a greenhouse or producing honey.

I’ve always personally wanted to set up beehives on my private property but I never had the time for it. The opportunity to do it at my workplace, with the support of numerous stakeholders and with the results benefitting our elderly population at Grove Park Home, was a really exciting idea.

The seeds for the project were firmly planted when I was attending the Nourish retreat in February 2017. As each of the innovators were planning their roadmaps for the next couple of years, I took this as a chance to establish on-campus beekeeping as my primary project. As of June, the beehives will be in place and the bees will start honey gathering throughout the next few months.


What kind of relationship did you build with the beekeeper to make it mutually beneficial for him and your long-term care home?

 Upon return from the Nourish retreat, I took some time to connect with some of my farm partners to determine if there was a valuable partnership with a beekeeper available. Each of the farmers I spoke with recommended I speak to Peter Dickey, a local Barrie beekeeper. Peter was instantly interested in a partnership where he could access the space that we had available. Peter and I discussed how this program could work on my campus, and he proposed a couple of options where we could either maintain the hives ourselves, or his company could maintain the hives throughout the season. All of the options allowed us to share the honey produced, and included the possibility of wholesale pricing of produced honey and the development of a potential private label honey program for fundraising.

 

What kind of impact have you seen thus far with the project?

Since the project is still in the preliminary stages, the main impact has been a positive buzz (pun intended) about the potential of honey production on site. Residents are very interested in the result of honey production. I was concerned that some staff may see this project as a liability or risk, but they are also in tune with the environmental need for pollination and the benefits of honey bee activity.

 

What is your ideal future outcome with the project for the facility, the healthcare system, and environment?

Ideally this beekeeping project becomes something we do every year on-site, and we can grow the program to the maximum number of hives that our campus can accommodate. It will be an added value for our food production if staff become interested in maintaining the hives internally. This would eliminate the need for a third party to maintain and process the honey we produce.

I’d love to see this beekeeping program become a norm for healthcare facilities with large campuses or in rural areas where local food production is feasible. These facilities can be aligned with the positive environmental mission of supporting bees and their pollination to ensure the reproduction of plants. Hopefully, other organizations can be inspired to look at other innovative ways to take underused resources and spaces to create rooftop gardens, greenhouses, and local food hubs to provide for the community.

 

A lot of other people might want advice on how to make this project happen at their institutions - what advice would you give?

 For anyone else interested in making beekeeping a possibility in their organizations, you should:

  • Understand local agriculture legislation. For instance, in Ontario an important piece of legislature is the Bees Act.
  • Find a professional beekeeper that is willing to work with your organization and willing to understand the complexities of your organization’s operation.
  • Understand the needs of your stakeholders and make sure they will not be at risk. For example, some people may suffer anaphylaxis allergy to honeybee stings so these risks would have to be considered.  
  • If you’re producing on-site, determine the public health measures that you must adhere to make sure everything is done safely.