Hundreds of small, buzzing insects dart in and out of a handful of tall, white boxes stacked in the backyard of Wes Miller’s home on 5th Street in Winona, Minn. What could be considered a phobic situation to some seems a place for reflection and enjoyment of nature’s beauty to others—with not one bee sting to be found.
“Each of these hives has a different personality,” Miller said while observing his hives. “Once you work with bees, you get a passion for them. You open up the hive in the spring and feel the heat. You begin to read them.”
Winona resident Wes Miller, a sociology professor at Saint Mary's University, began his bee collection three years ago after trying to find a more tangible way to teach his students about global issues.
“A lot of things the students need to know are so abstract, so I had to find a different way to engage them,” he said.
Reading about colony collapse, Miller thought raising his own bees could be an excellent example and laboratory for the college students to learn. Miller continued his passion for beekeeping by studying the most recent articles and magazines about the topic, and carefully observing his hives every day. While his home is in Winona city limits, Miller didn’t consider running into any difficulties and hadn’t heard any complaints—that is, until this past spring.
One of his neighbors contacted members of the city voicing concern over a hive that had taken nest temporarily in the front yard of Miller’s home.
“I should’ve known that people use swarm to describe any gathering of bees,” said Miller. “But no one ever contacted me.”
Beekeeping is currently a legal practice in Winona, but since the complaint, regulations are in the future of all hobby beekeepers in the city. Fearing for unfair statutes, Miller put out a call with friend and fellow bee enthusiast Bruno Borsari and formed the Winona Area Hobby Beekeeper’s Association (WAHBA). The group has grown to around 30 people who support their association and its mission.
The Winona City Council has since tabled the issue of regulating beekeeping within city limits, giving the WAHBA a chance to draft and suggest their own ordinance. The group is using this opportunity to turn their members’ passion into law.
“I’m more excited by getting involved, but what I’m worried about is that I’m doing less work with the bees,” Miller said. “I don’t want to lose this—I don’t want to get too far on the political side.”
At the end of August, the WAHBA met to talk about regulations that the city of Winona plans to put in place. Five members of the group spent an hour reviewing details of the document and ensuring the wording was correct. Among their concerns was a restriction on the amount of colonies allowed on one lot; a decision which they believe should be in the hands of each beekeeper.
No matter the size of the colony or collection, Miller says there are some things that remain the same for all members of the group: a passion for the craft and for the environmental benefits of beekeeping.
“I hate the word hobby for that reason—you take it just as seriously, you just have less hives to worry about,” Miller said while comparing his colonies to commercial businesses.
The WAHBS continues to meet and hone the draft to be presented to the Winona City Council at a to-be-determined date. The group’s long-term mission is to maintain an organization for beekeepers to share their information and experiences, do educational outreach and help each other with projects, no matter the outcome of the city’s regulations.
“I had to learn through books, but having some eyes to watch what you’re doing and give you feedback is great,” Miller said. “Some people learn better through mentoring, so it’s a nice opportunity.”
By Kate Carlson and Gabrielle Keegan