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Sunday, September 24, 2023

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Q&A: UW-Madison student’s pollinator-friendly passion project turns into campus-wide initiative

Bees Please UW educates community on the role of bees while maintaining a pollinator garden and bee hotels around campus.

Bee’s Please is a University of Wisconsin-Madison student organization that strives to educate the campus community on the importance of pollination while creating infrastructure that helps support bees on campus, like pollinator gardens and bee hotels. 

Senior Lily Parla started the organization while in high school and continued to develop it at college. Recently, the club has turned over new leadership but continued their partnerships with Engineers for Sustainable World and FH King to build bee hotels around campus.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

First, could you introduce yourself and talk about your role with Bees Please at UW?

I started Bees Please at my high school. And when I came to UW-Madison, I thought, ‘Oh, I'm sure there'll be a club on campus that I could join that focuses on educating people on the importance of bees and saving the bees.’ But there wasn't, and I was really surprised because there's thousands of student orgs. And so I started Bees Please here, [during] my junior year at UW. 

Our main goal is to educate students on the importance of bees while also doing what we can to support our local bees. We do that through fundraising for our bee friendly garden out in Eagle Heights. Last year, we sold beanies. 

This year, we sold sweatshirts, and those proceeds go towards things like soil, flowers and seeds for our space at Eagle Heights. It's a pollinator garden, so there'll be pollinator-friendly plants. 

We also speak to beekeepers in Dane County. We work specifically with Mark Evans. We were lucky enough, last spring, for him to invite us out and get to help him with his own bees. That was exciting. We just turned over our executive board for the first time, so that's exciting news.

What is your major and how does what you study in school tie into your sustainability philosophy and the work you're doing with Bees Please?

I'm actually an international studies and global economics major with a minor in Mandarin. I think what is really different is there's a lot of people in our club who are ecology, earth science majors … all these other majors that you would think pertain more to bees and sustainability.

There's also members in the club with marketing majors and supply chain majors, and bees really come into all of that. Like I said, bees help us grow almost all of our food, and without them that's not only going to affect the world and the food chain, but it's also going to affect businesses as well — and life as we know it. 

So really, anyone can join the club. You don't need to have prior knowledge of bees to join. You don't need to be a STEM major to join. We love everyone.

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Why specifically are bees super important pollinators in the general ecosystem, but then also here in Madison?

The majority of food we as humans eat wouldn't be possible without bees and pollinators. One of the first things we go over in our meeting is what's the difference between a bee and a wasp. 

I think the majority of people are like, ‘Oh my goodness, there's a bee,’ and they want to kill it. It's like no, no, that's probably a wasp. We think Madison does a really good job at putting plants around campus, but I just don't think that there's enough awareness of why we need to support these bees. 

It really is because our food wouldn't be possible, and our daily life would be so different without them, and they're just so busy. They're busy bees — they don't stay put.

I know UW became a Bee Campus USA. So I was wondering, what has the university already done in regards to making campus and just our general environment more bee friendly, and what other areas could they do more in?

Last fall, I partnered with the president of Engineers for a Sustainable World and FH King to create a big bee project throughout campus. We ended up receiving the University's Office of Sustainability Green Fund.

That was very exciting. It's a grant from the university to build bee hotels out in Eagle Heights and in the Allen Centennial Garden with educational signage — almost what you would see in a zoo about why bee hotels are so important, how they are different from normal beehives and why bees are important. Then, creating workshops for students on campus to learn more about them. 

Something that the school has already done once becoming a bee friendly campus is that out by Tripp Residence Hall they're creating a bee friendly garden, and they're also creating signage over there. We'd like to add a bee hotel in that space, but that's just one thing that the university has already done.

I think in the future where I'd really like to see the university go is more beekeeping and more bee hotels. But, there is limited space, and I think there's a fear that the bees are going to sting students. 

What does a normal Bees Please meeting look like? What activities are done and where are meetings held? If you were trying to recruit someone to join the club, what would you tell them about Bees Please?

The best way to stay informed on Bees Please meetings is through our Instagram. We also have a GroupMe that, if you reach out to the primary contact on WIN [the Wisconsin Involvement Network] or direct message through Instagram, we could add you to that, but our meetings are held around once a month.

We understand that students are very busy, but we want to keep them coming once a month, and we try to keep them held centrally on campus. The past three meetings have been at the Education Building on Bascom. Our first meeting every semester will be the difference between bees and wasps and the importance of bees.

Other meetings throughout the semester could look like a guest speaker that’s a beekeeper in the community. Or it could be going to someone we're working with in the Dane County Beekeepers Association. That usually happens more in the spring when it's nicer out and people are checking on if the hive has made it through winter. 

Then, other meetings will look like we did around the holidays. We decorated some ornaments. In the past, we've also painted bee baths. Bee baths are like the base of little pots, and you can paint them colorful and you fill them with rocks and water in the summer because bees need to drink water in order to stay hydrated and pollinate easier. The rocks are so they don't drown, and they're just very colorful to look at. They'll go in our garden this spring, and we're very excited about that

Looking at the future of the club, what are initiatives that Bees Please has their eyes set on and where do you hope this organization you started will go in the future, especially with a new set of leaders?

It's definitely nerve wracking but also super exciting passing something over that I've looked after for so long and started myself to a new executive board, but they're doing an absolutely wonderful job. I think they've all gotten really close working together. 

We even added a new position for the project with Engineers for a Sustainable World and FH King, specifically. That's our big project right now — the bee hotels that will be finalized this spring. And the last workshop we have is on beekeeping. 

There are three workshops, so we'll finish that and then just really try to get out and get more hands-on experience with hives and bees. It's hard in the fall — there's a little bit of a lull. It's more education in the fall, and then, in the end, planning in the spring is when we really get to go out and do more hands on. 

I'd really like to see us work more with schools in the community in the future. That's where I'd really like to see it go. Of course, it's up to the new executive board, but to start an elementary school pollinator garden and educate them and have little day for that. I'd really like to see summer camps as another big one. Last summer, we got asked to do a segment through a summer camp on the importance of pollinators.

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Noe Goldhaber

Noe Goldhaber is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in campus and state news reporting. 


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