Calgary is Buzzing with Urban Beekeeping, Thanks to Eliese Watson

Written by Allison Smith, Thrive

Urban beekeeping is buzzing around Calgary. With Eliese, the founder of Apiaries and Bees for Communities (A.B.C), queenbee-ing the movement.

Eliese has always been fascinated by beekeeping, although she has a degree in American Agriculture from Mount Royal University.  She was introduced to urban beekeeping at a youth sustainability conference over 4 years ago. After starting beekeeping as a hobby, she quickly gained local attention and saw a need that Calgarians were longing for. With a grant for 5,000 dollars, she started Apiaries and Bees for Communities and began collaborating with local beekeepers to develop educational workshops. “I taught my first course and it’s been flowing since then,” Eliese explained.

Eliese is one busy bee herself. Apiaries and Bees for Communities provides elementary school programming, key-note speakers, bee doctoring, swarm capturing, community workshops and more. This year alone she has introduced over 125 new colonies into the city and she herself maintains 28 hives across Calgary. As part of A.B.C. she coordinates home-2-hive bicycle tours, where 10 participants have the opportunity to explore urban spaces, learn about honey bees and check out urban apiaries. In addition she has developed The Community Hive Network which is a volunteer-run organization that connects people interested in beekeeping to information through a chat room.

It doesn’t stop there! She facilitates the collaborative purchasing of bees and equipment, which makes purchasing affordable, sustainable and easier.

On June 9th I had the opportunity to attend one of Eliese’s field workshops, with 25 other eager beekeeping students in the humble community of Inglewood. We set up shop at The Area, which is a quarter acre of land that hopes to be a collaborative community space for sharing urban agricultural techniques, cooking, art, music and so on. It’s another step in the neighbourhood revitalization taking place in the community. The space aims to foster the cross pollination of ideas to promote community engagement and development. The workshop did just that, with beekeepers in training exchanging stories of past workshops and the best way to build a good Langstoth hive.  Our bellies full of delicious potluck, generously supplied by the beekeeping students, we were ready to learn about Splits & Swarms. The workshop had an oh-so-very-sweet ending, with fresh honeycomb shared among the students! Her passion was experienced by students who proclaimed a lot of admiration and praise for her hard, knowledgeable work. Her love for beekeeping was truly infectious.

It’s been a struggle financially Eliese noted, with 100% of revenue coming from the educational workshops. She explained the difficulty in covering the expenses of equipment, expanding the apiary while also keeping prices affordable.

With the rapid expansion, and the phenomal uptake of urban beekeeping, Eliese has been spread pretty thin. She has hired staff, Stacy & Danielle, who both started as driven, passionate volunteers. She also has exceptional support from friends, volunteers and community champions.

The power of partnerships.

Eliese is very conscious of the power of partnerships to help facilitate growth, awareness and community. She aims to have a cross pollination of ideas to utilize others skills for the best possible learning experience.  Her list of valuable partners in the city is long. Currently, with Bees for Communities she is partnering with Forge Food, Palliser Hotel, Ox & Angela, Una Pizza & Wine and Calgary Food Tours. She maintains beehives at each of these locations to provide fresh, sustainable honey. These partnerships are important since urban beekeeping is another pillar in the sustainable and health food system.

“My goal is to get 500 unique people inside a beehive,” Eliese said. “My goal is really building that hive mentality…it’s about people having an opportunity to look in a beehive and seeing in action a hundred million years of evolution of honeybees. And seeing bees work collectively for the common good while taking what they need from nature and always giving back, ” she added.

She aims to reconnect people with nature. Noticing the rise of Calgarians aware of where their food is coming from, with a longing to get back into agriculture and to connect with their local ecosystem.  She has a love for bees but has a long-term goal of community engagement and development. “Because as soon as you become a beekeeper you slow down and learn to practice the goal of observation,” she said.

“In an urban city like Calgary… I feel like its important for people to observe nature in it’s richness and really recognize the replicability of that hive mentality,” Eliese added.

Building a sustainable infrastructure.

“I have started this really big movement in the city, which is wonderful, but I’m really afraid of there being some sort of guruship behind it. Guruship creates a pyramid and eventually the bottom falls out. I’m really trying to build a sustainable infrastructure around beekeeping.”

In the event that Eliese ends up leaving Calgary, she aims to have a resilient community that will continue to be active beekeepers, exchanging knowledge and innovations.

A community is like a beehive.

She is active across Calgary but more so in the Beltline, Montgomery, and Bowness communities. She explained that a community is like a beehive, with everyone having an important role to play. It’s very important to understand your micro-region or community, with each having different needs, variables and ecosystems.

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