From Corrosive Coal to Beautiful Bee

The decline of the coal industry has hit West Virginia hard over the past decade, leaving thousands out of work and creating record unemployment in the region.
But a new nonprofit is offering these displaced workers an environmentally friendly industry instead —beekeeping.

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective offers free training to low-income residents to help them provide a supplemental income for their families. Graduates of the introductory course receive free bees and two to twenty hives, along with ongoing mentoring and support.

With potential earnings of several hundred dollars per hive, honey harvests could put thousands of dollars into the pockets of students and their families, while at the same time, supporting the health and biodiversity of the local ecosystem, as bees are now considered one of the most important species on the planet.

The organization will also help collect, bottle and sell their honey harvests. The profits go back to the students as well as the organization. In its first year, the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective trained 34 beekeepers, and harvested and sold nearly three tons of honey.

The collective is also teaching its budding beekeepers how to use their hives to rebuild their livelihoods by making beeswax products like candles and
honey-roasted coffee.

Apiary manager, Mark Lilly, hopes the project will transform the way new beekeepers see themselves and their connection to the land, as well as
how others view rural West Virginians.
“They need to see a proud people. Not looking for sympathy, not looking for anything free, just looking for opportunities.”

Justifiably, this project is funded from a $7.5 million dollar lawsuit settlement from the coal companies for violating The Clean Water Act. Money that will help restore an area and a people that they’ve hurt.

With new students on board for the program’s next year, The Bee Collective is off to an inspiring—and sweet—start.