The coal mining industry in West Virginia was a reliable source of income for thousands of people across the state—until the jobs started to dry up. In 1990, about 132,000 people worked as coal miners in West Virginia, compared to just 53,000 in 2018.
The decline of coal mining in the region has left many people looking for new sources of income, which is where the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective comes in.
The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective, a project of the nonprofit organization Appalachian Headwaters, trains displaced West Virginia coal miners and other low-income individuals as beekeepers, offering them a new source of income and the potential to find additional job opportunities. Currently, the program operates in 17 counties throughout the state.
Students who complete the collective’s free “Introduction to Beekeeping” course receive bees and beekeeping equipment for free or at a reduced rate. They also have access to ongoing training and mentorship.
“I wish this group had been here 30 years ago,” said miner-turned-beekeeper James Scyphers in a recent interview with NPR. “Our region needs it.”
Scyphers has also come to find some surprising similarities between mining and beekeeping during his time with the collective.
“Beekeeping is hands-on-work, like mining, and requires on-the-job-training. You need a good work ethic for both.”
Beekeepers trained by the collective can operate up to 20 hives. Each hive produces 60 to 100 pounds of honey per season, which means that beekeepers can earn up to $732 per hive based on 2018 retail prices of about $7.32 per pound of honey.
Beekeepers also have the opportunity to make additional products such as wax candles, lip balm and more. They can learn how to make these products through additional classes offered by the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective.
Meanwhile, just over the border in Virginia, state officials recently launched their own beehive distribution program as well. This program gives Virginia residents age 18 and up the opportunity to receive up to three beehives and training as beekeepers. Instead of offsetting job losses in the mining industry, Virginia’s hive distribution program was designed to help the state’s bee population recover from years of decline due to pests and disease.
Here on the West Coast, Marshall’s Farm is proud to produce a variety of unique handmade honey products with the help of bees from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, feel free to give us a call or contact us online today!