Beekeeping was not part of the agriculture science curriculum at Hawkins High School – not until a single phone call led students in an unexpected direction.
In February 2019, agriculture science teacher and FFA advisor Matt Byrd received a call from a contact at the Nestle Waters North America plant asking if students could help relocate bees that had taken up residence in their Hawkins, Texas, bottled water facility.
Byrd sought out advice from a local beekeeper and agreed to build hives and install swarm catchers on-site. Nestle provided $5,000 to purchase a table saw, planer, joiner and other woodworking tools to ensure that students had the right equipment to construct the hives in their agriculture mechanics classes.
Once the hives were built, a team of four members from the Hawkins FFA Chapter – Jessica Henneous, Mackenzie Rutherford, Rachel Parish and Brooke Goddard – established an apiary on the 2,700-acre grounds at Nestle, hoping that the setup would encourage bees to vacate the plant and move into their new, more suitable homes. The plan worked.
The novice beekeepers accepted the ongoing responsibilities of caring for the colonies, including regular hive inspections and honey extractions. A local beekeeper taught students the basics of honeybee anatomy, pollination, colony behavior and honey production. Byrd had no trouble finding students willing to don bee suits and work with stinging insects.
“I signed up for the project because I was looking for a new challenge, and it sounded like a lot of fun,” Henneous says.
The first harvest yielded 50 pounds of honey, which was bottled and marketed under the name 4G Honey to represent the “four girls.” Revenues from honey sales will be used to establish a scholarship fund for the FFA beekeepers.
As the operation grows (the chapter plans to triple the number of hives in the apiary in 2020), the revenues from beekeeping could also be used to provide paid part-time jobs for the students. Rutherford admits that beekeeping is a lot of work and earning a paycheck would be a bonus, but, she adds, “When you’re having fun, it doesn’t feel like work.”
The Hawkins FFA Chapter entered its beehive in the Houston Livestock Agriculture Mechanics Show and beat students from 500 other schools to earn overall reserve champion.
The creative partnership between the Hawkins FFA Chapter and Nestle also has the multinational corporation buzzing about FFA.
“The global president of Nestle Waters is encouraging all of the Nestle facilities in the United States to reach out to their local schools to partner,” Byrd says. “The success of the project shows that FFA students are solving real-world problems.”
Word of the members’ success has spread across the country. NBC’s “Today” show visited the school on Friday, Dec. 6, to do a live nationally televised segment on the enterprise. During the broadcast, Nestle Waters presented the chapter with a $10,000 check for their efforts and each of the four female FFA members with $5,000 scholarships.