From offenders to beekeepers: a first bee keeping initiative in Ontario

Last summer, Collins Bay Institution (CBI) in Kingston, Ontario, launched a new Bee Keeping initiative thanks to partnerships with Algonquin College, Carleton University, CORCAN and eight inmates.

Beekeeping instructor and Carleton student, Sam Davidson, created and facilitated a 10-week beekeeping program with inmates at CBI. Offenders met with the instructor once every 10 days for the duration of the program to monitor the health of the bees while learning the science of beekeeping and apiculture.

Each week, Sam met with inmates and facilitated sessions that covered bee biology, farming practices, environmental factors related to bee health and general lessons on beekeeping.

Initially, Sam was surprised at the enthusiasm the inmates displayed when working with the bees. “I felt like all the inmates were super enthused! I brought my library of bee keeping books and left them over the summer. When I returned, inmates had read them cover to cover and came back to me with pertinent questions.”

After in-class lessons, inmates visited the hives located on the Collins Bay Farm with Sam and put into practice what they had learned.

“Every week we would do half an hour of talking and then suit up and go into the hives and work. Every week I would have four offenders who were very consistent and came every week, there was a lot of excitement and nervousness as it can be intimidating.”

Together they successfully maintained and contributed to the well-being of two beehives at the institution, which produced approximately 140 pounds of honey by harvest time this fall.

The initiative, made possible through a grant from the Carleton University Research Opportunity Program (CUROP), is to study the potential impacts of beekeeping on physical, mental and social health and the wellbeing of offenders.

Although there can be some initial anxiety about working with honey bees, studies have shown that therapeutic beekeeping could potentially be useful as a social work intervention, providing both the therapeutic benefits of group work and connection to nature.

Apiculture requires calm, deliberate movements and clear communication between beekeepers. Although beekeeping is not extremely physically demanding it, working as a team and ensuring a stress free workspace is necessary in order to work with bees; something Sam noticed while working with the inmates. “The inmates may have not increased their physical health; however, almost all of them had reported it helped their mental health due to the meditative quality of the work itself, and it helped their social aspect of their life.”

Apiculture contributes to social health by building communities, increasing one’s sense of belonging and willingness to share knowledge and skills. It also contributes to positive mental health by lowering anxiety and stress, increasing confidence, mindfulness and builds opportunities to learn how to work with individuals and groups towards a common goal.

Many would assume that bees are born with the skills required to create honey, but that is not the case. In fact, young bees are taught by elder bees how to pollinate flowers and make honey. Just like the young bees, offenders are trained by more experienced beekeepers and receive vocational training and certifications in the “Best management Practices for Honey Bee Health – Introductory to Beekeeping” course, which is offered by Algonquin College in Ottawa.

Following the program, offenders earned a certification of completion from Sam and some participants earned the vocational certification. The goal of vocational training is to help offenders learn technical, transferable and soft skills to contribute to the likelihood that they will be able to get a job after release. All vocational training must be third party-certified. This means that the certification that an offender receives will be recognized in the community. This will assist offenders to find meaningful employment upon release into the community.

CORCAN is always looking for new opportunities, such as this bee keeping initiative, to build partnerships with the community in order to create new employment training and opportunities for offenders.

The program was so successful last year that the initiative has been expanded at Collins Bay and initiated at Joyceville Institution this year, with 10 hives at each site.

Oh, and if you are wondering, they did name the Queen bee… her name is Beyoncé.

Did you know?

  • The practice of beekeeping dates back at least 4,500 years.
  • One hive can have up to 70,000 bees.
  • Honey bees are the only insect that produces food consumed by humans.
  • To make a pound of honey, a hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles (88,514 km).
  • The moisture during the winter is worse than cold weather for the bees.
  • One of the struggles of farming in Canada is that Varroa mites, which is a pest, can have serious consequences if they lodge in a hive. 
Date modified: