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Surry Community College hosts Buzz Fest as a certified Bee Campus

“Sun. Soil. Seeds. Good start,” a group of students repeated after Tasha Greer of Surry County Master Gardeners as they built their own mini pollinator garden to take home. Greer taught the middle school students some more basics: giving the flowers a spot where they would get at least six hours of sun a day, watering the soil frequently to keep the seeds moist for sprouting, and choosing a super soft plant soil. The goal: to give bees more options for collecting nectar and pollen.

Tasha Greer of Surry County Master Gardeners shows students how to make their own pollinator plot. Yasmin Bendaas/EducationNC

The event was part of Buzz Fest and the N.C. Science Festival — a program dedicated to educating younger students in the community about the importance of bees and hosted by Surry Community College (SCC) last month. Now in its second year, Buzz Fest also complements SCC’s designation as a certified Bee Campus with Bee Campus USA. 

“The environmental council, of which I’m the chair, we looked at it and thought it might be a good thing since we are trying to emphasize more of our agriculture bases,” said Randy Rogers, who is also director of facilities at the college. “Plus, we are home to the N.C. Center of Viticulture and Enology. We just saw that as a good fit.”

SCC’s agriculture and horticulture course offerings also made Bee Campus USA’s focus on pollinators, pollinator enhancement, and pollinator habitats in line with the interests of the college and region.

“We see it being very successful,” Rogers said. “We actually service Surry County and Yadkin County and we’re looking at growing the program to bring more [young students] from the Yadkin side.”

Members of the Surry County Beekeepers Association with students at Buzz Fest. Yasmin Bendaas/EducationNC

In addition to creating their own pollinator plots, students had the chance to hear directly from the Surry County Beekeepers Association about the work they have been doing since 1981 and why bees are so important for the environment and for humans — after all, bees are responsible for our food supply.

Eugene Brown, president of the beekeepers association, shared with students that he keeps 40,000 bees, the most important of which is the queen bee.

“She’s the glue that holds the hive together,” Brown told the students. He explained that the queen is also easily identifiable by her size and long abdomen.

“It’s like looking at a rattlesnake versus a rat snake,” Brown said. “They’re both snakes, but when you see a rattlesnake, you’ll always know it’s a rattlesnake.”

Eugene Brown, President of the Surry Beekeepers Association, teaches students how to identify a queen bee. Yasmin Bendaas/EducationNC

All bees, however, have that “fuzzy” appearance, unlike wasps which are slick. This fuzz is what makes bees pollinators — the pollen grains stick to them as they move from flower to flower.

“Without these bees traveling from place to place, all of your fruits and vegetables would probably be local,” he said.

There’s also a chance, however, that not just pollen is sticking to the bees. Pesticides and herbicides can make bees sick, slow, and weak — and without bees bringing in a food supply, Brown said an entire hive could starve in just five days.

The loss of bee colonies is not a local problem, it’s been part of environmental news worldwide. According to Greenpeace USA, “U.S. National Agricultural Statistics show a honey bee decline from about 6 million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million hives in 2008, a 60 percent reduction.”

Jeff Jones, division chair of sciences at Surry CC, gives plants that attract butterflies to students. Yasmin Bendaas/EducationNC

But bee campuses like Surry Community College, with events like Buzz Fest, are hoping to do something about it.

“We were very interested in making sure that the younger generation starts realizing how critical it is to enhance the pollinator habitats and make sure that we protect our environment,” Rogers said.

Yasmin Bendaas

Yasmin Bendaas is a Science writer.  A North Carolina native, she received her master’s degree in Science & Medical Journalism at UNC Chapel Hill, where she was a Park Fellow. She received her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 2013 from Wake Forest University, where she double-minored in journalism and Middle East and South Asia studies. As an undergraduate student, Bendaas gained insight into public health when she interned at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, a statewide grantmaker focused on rural health, including access to primary care, diabetes, community-centered prevention, and mental health and substance abuse. 

As a journalist, Bendaas has been funded twice by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for fieldwork in Algeria — first to cover a disappearing indigenous tattoo tradition, and again to look at how climate change affects rural sheepherding practices.