More than 20,000 bees get to call the roof of Hemmingson Center home as a part of Gonzaga’s pledge to commit to a set of practices that support pollinators.
The pledge was made in connection with GU being certified as a Bee Campus USA, which recognizes educational institutions that create sustainable habitats for bees, as well as educate their communities about what role bees play in sustaining the planet.
GU became the first Jesuit university to receive the Bee Campus designation, as well as the first in the state of Washington.
Dan Harris, a local Spokane beekeeper who used to work at GU, was one of the leaders of the movement to bring the buzz to campus.
“The planning stages of Hemmingson, the whole purpose of the building — a lot of people thought it’s the new student union building and a place for gathering, but everything wrapped around the building was with the intention of education as the priority,” Harris said. “As far as food services — how can we teach students about making healthy choices when eating? The hydroponics garden —how can we teach students about water usage? And so we looked at the beehives as another opportunity, because we wanted to teach the campus about everything sustainable and they were right in line with that.”
Once the idea was born, executing it moved along smoothly with the exception of some small fears held about the bees themselves.
“Because of the misconception around honey bees, everybody lumps them in with wasps. It took convincing and talking and educating people about the bees and that this would be a good addition to the new Hemmingson Center,” said Chuck Faulkinberry, director of Hemmingson Center & Auxiliary Services.
What started as two hives atop the Hemmingson Center has grown into an additional two at Bozarth Mansion and a new one just installed outside the Humanities Building.
In addition to these hives helping campus stay pollinated, they also exist with the goal of raising awareness about how students can help the bees. There has been no shortage of news in recent years about the problems that honey bees are facing.
Both Harris and his wife Gaylene believe the biggest threat to honey bees is pesticides.
“If you look at the use of chemical pesticides, or just chemicals period in the farming practices of this country, if you were to look at a graph, the gallons of pesticides per square acre usage has climbed and the evidence of honey bee decline mirrors it exactly,” he said.
Spokane recently banned the use of neonicotinoid which, according to the Harris’, is the pesticide that has be proven to be a pure killer of honey bees and other pollinators. The city has also become conscientious of which pesticides it sprays along the river after increased pressures from honey bee and sustainability advocates.
Harris has not only developed a passion for beekeeping due to his desire to help save the honey bees, he has also grown quite fond of them as a species, and enjoys discovering the unique personality of each hive he tends to.
“I am convinced that after a while the bees come to recognize us. I get off work and maybe it was a stressful day so I just go and stand in front of the hive and it’s almost therapeutic watching them fly in. They will come over and land on my shoulder and I will talk to them,” he said.
“He does talk to them,” Gaylene added, smiling. “He says ‘Hi girls, how was your day?’ ”
Faulkinberry, who is also a beekeeper at his home in Chattaroy, Washington, also feels a sense of responsibility to the bees, and hopes to continuously remind people of their importance to our world.
“I think the real important part of this is how we are so connected with nature and a lot of times we take it for granted or don’t realize the little critter we might be swatting at just what they are doing for us as human beings. Especially the connection to agriculture and our food sources, what it means if we don’t take care of the earth and we don’t take care of pollinators, it could be a big issue in the future,” Faulkinberry said.
Faulkinberry encourages members of GU’s community to continue to get involved with the bees on campus. Those looking to get involved can join the campus bee club, or participate in an informational session that will take place on the Friday of this years upcoming Earth Week. In addition, tours of the hives are always available and can be scheduled at the Hemmingson welcome desk on the first floor.