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July 5, 2007

What’s the buzz? Bee colony will help productivity of student farm

News and Information

By university standards, the newest residence hall on campus is pretty small, but those living there don’t seem to mind. They are honeybees, enlisted to assist in a student farm project.

Evan Sugden, a UW biology lecturer, placed the hive in the southern part of the main campus in mid June. Last week he brought a honeycomb loaded with baby bees from another hive to add to the campus population.

The bees are essential for pollinating fruit-producing plants, and help students understand one of the important steps in food production.

“This way students can do more than study biology from a textbook,” said Sugden, who supplies bees to fruit and almond growers.

It’s apparently not the first time there has been a hive on campus. Sugden said that at one time biology faculty kept hives on the roof of Kincaid Hall.

Alan Trimble, also a biology lecturer, leads the student farm project, which is in its second year and involves about 135 students, most of them undergraduates. The project helps make up for what he considers to be woeful gaps in the students’ knowledge.

“Many of them don’t know where their food comes from,” Trimble said. “Unless it is wrapped in plastic with a label on it, they have a hard time identifying the plants that they depend on for food.”

The students are growing a variety of urban crops on about one-quarter of an acre near the Botany Greenhouse. The farm project also offers them important lessons in sustainability, Trimble said, and if he had his way the vast expanses of UW lawns would become models for sustainable urban agriculture.

“Most of the people in the world live in urban areas, and many of those areas have small-scale agriculture blended throughout, growing on rooftops or in median strips,” he said.

Producing more food locally would greatly reduce associated transportation costs, he believes, and also would sharply cut the carbon emissions needed to transport produce from, say, California to Seattle. The students in the farm project are gradually carrying the sustainability message beyond the campus, but Trimble would like to see the UW become a leader in teaching sustainable practices to students and advocating them to the larger population.

“My dream in this is that the 800 to 900 acres that the campus comprises could be turned into a large farm space that can feed a lot of students,” he said.