Unemployed Appalachian Coal Miners Are Being Re-trained as Beekeepers

Many industries are on the decline and as a result of that many workers are left unemployed, and one of those industries is the coal. Currently, in West Virginia 100,000 miners are considered redundant due to the decline in the coal industry.

However, everything is not lost according to a nonprofit organization that believes that a new, more eco-friendly industry can bring many job posts, the beekeeping.

In 2016, the charity Appalachian Headwaters was founded with funds from a $7.5 million settlement from a lawsuit against coal mine company Alpha Natural Resources for violating the Clean Water Act. This nonprofit organization runs the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective that used the settlement money to fund environmental restoration projects like beekeeping. These projects proved to be of enormous help in the fight against the unemployment in this region which is the highest in the country. They include community beekeeping, mined land restoration, and native plant horticultural, which are designed to keep the environment and at the same create local, long-term jobs.

The goal of this organization is to teach and support the people to enroll in growth industries, and to aid displaced or underemployed workers to have their own income meanwhile repairing the damaged ecosystems.

Likewise it offers free classes of beekeeping under the program known as “Introduction to Beekeeping”. The graduates of this program are given the needed equipment for beekeeping, and free or reduced-cost bees considering the fact that they may have the funds to purchase them by themselves. In addition, to this, the new beekeepers have access to ongoing training and mentorship. They are continuously taught about the valuable beekeeping skills in classrooms and after that they are given 2 to 20 hives. The teachers visit their homes to monitor their progress. In this way they gain theoretical and practical knowledge of the beekeeping profession leading them to more advanced skills.

They keep the hives, and once they are full the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective collects, bottles, and sells the honey from their hives. For this the Collective pays the miners, who are now beekeepers, the market rate for the honey harvest, $7 a pound (€15/Kg).

The training is accessible even to the most vulnerable group of people, namely all West Virginia residents who are at or below the federal poverty rate can visit these classes.

Here it is what is written on the charity website:

“The program originally began as an effort to ensure we had the pollinators necessary to help our mined land restoration projects succeed. It quickly evolved into a workforce development program as we realized the significant economic opportunities offered by beekeeping.

The Beekeeping Collective has the potential to bring millions of dollars into the region, offering job options and supplemental incomes for hundreds of people.”

The new beekeepers harvested their first honey production in the spring 2019. Plus, the beekeepers can also produce by-products of the honey like lip balm, candles, or other beeswax products and this contributes to their additional income as well. The charity provides the needed training so that they can be successful in their manufacture.

The Appalachian coal miners could earn $15,000 (€13,477/£11,655) per season since a strong beehive can produce between 60 and 100 pounds of honey, at an average retail price of $700 per hive, and if they keep 20 hives the above sum adds up.

Currently the program is followed in 17 counties in southern West Virginia, but the goal of the charity is to expand it into southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

Considering the current economic situation this program offers a nice additional income for the people who have lost their jobs and at the same time they are doing a good thing. Bees have become an endangered species that are of extreme value for the environment and the crops that we consume every day.

This is a win-win situation for the laid off workers and for the well-being and biodiversity of the local ecosystems.

The Collective offered new job opportunities and supplemental income from many displaced coal miners and low-income residents of mining communities throughout the state. This is of great value for these residents where more than 28% of them live in poverty having very little chances for finding a job.

According to Cindy Bee, a master beekeeper with Appalachian Headwaters:

“It wasn’t just the miners that lost their livelihoods when mining jobs disappeared; other industries started to wilt, too, and entire communities were affected. We’re doing something that can boost the town up.”