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Banking on KC – Dr. Marion Pierson of MO Hives KC

 

 

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly spigot. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Dr. Marion Pierson, the founder of MO HIVES KC, a local nonprofit that advocates for urban bee farms. The Missouri State Beekeepers Association named Dr. Pierson beekeeper of the year in the fall of 2021. Welcome.

Marion Pierson:

Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Kelly Scanlon:

Congratulations on your award last year. That's a pretty big deal.

Marion Pierson:

Well, I like to say it's because of the organization, certainly not because of my beekeeping skills, because as known in the business, I am a newbie. Beekeeper for less than five years.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, let's talk about that. You're a pediatrician by training and in fact, you still have a thriving pediatric practice in Prairie Village. So what drew you to beekeeping and your larger mission of advocating for urban beekeeping?

Marion Pierson:

That's a great question and I absolutely love what I do as a pediatrician. And so as a scientist, a biology major actually. As a scientist, I've always been curious and I was able to follow my passions in a lot of different ways. And I'm a honeyphile or a person who absolutely loves honey. And I was curious enough when I started hearing conversations around colony collapse disorders, specifically related to honey bees, that I said, "What is that about? I love honey and honey bees seem to be really in trouble."

So learning more, I just followed that curiosity. I have a co-founder Brian Reeves, who's also in the medical industry and he had been beekeeping for several years. So we connected and I said, "You know what? This is a passion that I'd like to follow." And Brian had already thought about this himself. And so we just jumped right in.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, you mentioned honey before and how you're a honeyphile and many people do associate beekeeping with honey. When you say beekeeping people, just a lot of times assume that you are producing honey. Your mission at MO HIVES KC is much broader than that. Tell us about it.

Marion Pierson:

Well, that it is. So when Brian and I were talking about starting in the organization, it was not exclusively to just pick up beekeeping ourselves. It really was to involve the community as a whole in beekeeping. And this is not an original idea that we came up with at MO HIVES. It really was an idea that really spread from Detroit. At Detroit Hives, the founders, Tim Jackson and Nicole Lindsay had been turning vacant lots in the middle of Detroit into honeybee farms for years before we had the idea.

And it was that idea that really helped us to figure out how to structure what we have here in Kansas city today. We simply asked them, "Could we do something like what you're doing in Detroit, with converting those vacant lots and it bee farms. Could we do that here?" And they said, "Absolutely." And they gave us the blueprint.

So what we do is take vacant lots, which again, in lots of urban areas, that's sort of a real significant issue that cities are facing. What do you do with an empty lot, because they attract things like dumping and nefarious activity that you just don't want to see next door and when you live in the middle of the city. And so when they attack that problem, that development, really it's a development issue. When they attack that problem with honeybee farms, I thought what a creative idea. So we do this, because of what we call our hive five mission. And so our hive five, like the honeybee hives-

Kelly Scanlon:

I love it.

Marion Pierson:

It really starts with bee conservation. So this is a conservation effort. So yes, honeybees, because they were threatened, but what we do for the honeybees and how we open that door really opens the door for people to really consider what we're doing for other native bee populations, let's say, or even other pollinators. So when we can create healthy habitat for honeybees and help to conserve them, we help to conserve lots of different pollinators at the same time.

The second part of that high five is beautification. It is a form of environmental justice to be able to share with neighborhoods, that they don't have to walk outside their door and see a blighted, overgrown, dumped-on lot with activities that just aren't healthy for the neighborhood. We bring beauty, and native wildflowers. We get rid of trash and debris. So beautification is part of our mission.

Food, we want people to know the direct and very important and vital connection between a healthy pollinator population in your city and your healthy food supply chain. The food chain does not start with grocery stores and we are all familiar with food deserts and how that can really be at play again, the middle of the urban core.

But when you recognize as a resident, that again, the food chain doesn't start at the doors of the grocery store, it starts with having pollinators to help us grow our crops since one and every three bites of food really needs a pollinator to help it propagate or to flourish. We want people to know there's a direct connection between you helping to create healthy environments for pollinators and you having a secure food chain. So it was about food.

Kelly Scanlon:

One in every three bites?

Marion Pierson:

Our food supply would be much more limited if we didn't have bees to help pollinate our food. So we'd have food, but it would be a much more limited variety. And some even go so far as to say, it wouldn't be an adequate supply to feed the humans that we have on the earth today. So some would say when the bees die, we die. I don't know how much time it would take for us to really feel that much of the impact, but it would be significant. And it would certainly be real. So for sure, we depend on pollinators to create a healthy food system and we need them.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. So what's number four.

Marion Pierson:

Four is, honestly, it's STEM. We want people, especially kids in the urban core who may not think about agriculture as a science. We want people to know that agricultural science is a form of STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math. We even pull in a lot of technology, so that kids, especially that may have skills in let's say gaming and being on their computer and video games, use those skills, bridge them. And you know what you can do with that? You can remotely monitor your hives with remote cameras. You can use drone cameras to monitor crops, because again, the technology that we think of as just as urban tools, can be used very well in agricultural settings.

Agriculture doesn't have to happen out on rural property, hundreds of miles away from your home. It can happen right in the middle of your city. So we want people to know about STEM and how much people can really bridge some of the skills they already have with agriculture.

And then the last one, honestly, is the economy of beekeeping. Beekeeping is a multi-billion dollar industry in the US and it's not just about honey. The cosmetic industry depends on wax, bee's wax for lots of cosmetic products like lip balms and things like that. And then there's safety equipment that beekeepers need, and you can raise bees and sell them. So there is an entire economy that if we can bring more people into that economy, we can really create a lot more thriving financial system in our cities.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about your bees. You talked about the vacant lots. Where in Kansas City, are you located? Do you have several locations or you concentrated in one area?

Marion Pierson:

We actually have our main apiary at 50th and Wabash Avenue, which is really right east of the Country Cup Plaza on six continuous vacant lots. And for 10 years, the nonprofit that owns the vacant lots, was just mowing them and taking off debris. So we clean up the debris and now they don't have to use resources to mow and take off debris and they can use those resources for other parts of their mission.

So we have the partnership here with Community Builders of Kansas City, nonprofit who does deserve urban development. And they own the lots here on Wabash. We also have a hive or an apiary on Hospital Hill. The Children's Mercy Community Garden is there on 22nd and Gillum. And they asked us to bring a honey beehive there to help them grow more fruit and vegetables that they give away to the community and use to donate to the gardeners who are mainly staff from Hospital Hill.

They donate and use those fruits and vegetables there. And we have a hive there helping them. So we have tiny little pollinators helping them do their work. We also have nine hives across from the VA on another vacant set of lots owned by Community Builders of Kansas City. And that's a really fun project. We have a plan to strategically locate our hives near community gardens.

And so I'm naming all these locations, because they are very close to where there are already people out in the neighborhoods gardening. And when we tell them, "We'd like to do some apiary development here and it will really help you grow more fruits and veggies." You'd be surprised how open and how supportive people are, because they're already gardening. So they're ready to have.

And then we have on the vacant property that is the old Adams Mark Hotel across from the stadium. We have two hives, a red and a blue hive on top of the old Adams Mark Hotel. And we have a hive located at the Homeless Assistance Campus, the Hope Faith Homeless Assistance Campus near downtown. So we have several locations around the city. And this summer with the Missouri Department of Conservation's help, we were able to branch out for the first time away from Kansas City. And we have two hives in Jefferson City at the governor's mansion. And so we've now converted the governor's mansion into an apiary.

Kelly Scanlon:

On my street alone, I know of two neighbors who are raising bees on their property. Is this something that is becoming a trend and that you are helping to increase interest in?

Marion Pierson:

Wow, well, we hope so. I'm so glad to hear that you have two neighbors that have hives. That's exciting. We hope that we are, not necessarily doing anything temporary, but maybe we're offering a bit of awareness, so that people know, first of all, this is an activity you can take up within the city. So you can do backyard beekeeping. People do balcony beekeeping, who live in apartments. You be surprised.

So yes, hopefully we're bringing awareness to the fact that everyone can be involved. And that's really one of the things that is so exciting to us, is that when we bring more people to beekeeping, we increase conversation. And we increase the number of people who get to have a voice in those sort of conservation conversations. And that surely will bring us continued advancement in supporting our pollinators.

Kelly Scanlon:

The bee population, as you mentioned, has declined substantially, especially over the last 20 years. How do you sustain the bees? What's necessary for their good health? You mentioned that you try to locate in vacant lots that are in close proximity to community gardens, because they have the pollinators. You already have people that are gardening. What else is required in order to sustain these locations?

Marion Pierson:

Well, the good, neat thing about beekeeping, it's not like having lots of cats or dogs where you have to feed them every day and you have to let them out and take them for walks. The bees really are very self-sufficient. We give them good, safe surroundings where we can provide protection from the elements. Even though the hive boxes are outdoors, we provide protection by providing good safe equipment with our hive boxes.

We really don't have to feed them, because bees will fly two to five miles away from where your hives are located to forage and look for pollen and nectar. So although we strategically locate near community gardens, you don't have to, because the bees are going to go out and find food and nectar. We do supply water, because as an urban beekeeping organization, we don't want our bees to become a nuisance as they search for water, let's say at a neighbor's water hose spigot.

So we try to supply them with fresh water nearby, so they can always have something to drink. And then you just have to continue to check your hives. We do a certain medication regimen. The [inaudible 00:12:34] mite is one of the larger threats to honeybee populations. And it is a tiny mite that if it were on us, it would be the size of a dinner plate, sucking their fat bodies out, weakening them and making them a little bit more susceptible to disease.

So there are some ways that you can help to keep your hives healthy and resist impact from the [inaudible 00:12:54] mite. And there's a couple of other infections that if you can use medication treatments, some of them natural, it will keep your hive healthier. So as beekeepers, we're always learning about ways to try to protect the bees as best we can and do it in as natural a way as we can. We try to be completely natural in what our bees forage from. We don't use any pesticides or herbicides on property, and we just try to keep our bees healthy.

Kelly Scanlon:

Are they out all season, all throughout the different changes of the seasons? They hibernate in winter?

Marion Pierson:

They do. They stay outdoors the entire year and they do quite well, honestly. They will huddle together and cluster. And when they cluster, they can actually keep the interior of the hive close to I think, 75 degrees, even when it's zero degrees outside. They actually are truly self-sufficient. They are constantly moving their wing muscles to create enough heat. And in a hive there's about 50,000 bees. And so if you have 50,000 bodies kind of constantly moving, you'll create enough heat to even be protective, heat protection in the cold.

Kelly Scanlon:

We briefly touched on the educational and the economic opportunities for the community that come with the work that you're doing. And with just the bee industry in general, talk to us about some of the educational outreach that you do in the community.

Marion Pierson:

Well, that's one of the most fun events that we do. Well, first and foremost, we are here for the community that's immediately in close proximity to the hives. And so every chance we get, the neighbors that are here nearby, we try to have a great communication with around what we're doing, why we're doing it, because they're curious and they want to know what's going on right next door to them. And so an important part is just to be in close proximity and relationship in the best way we can with the neighbors who immediately surround us. And so those educational opportunities are ongoing.

In fact, there's three or four under 10 kids who live right next door to our main apiary area. And they come down almost weekly and they ask questions about the bees. They help us care for the bees by mixing up feed. When we use sugar water, when we need to mixing up feed and pulling weeds, when we're gardening. They just do all kind of fun stuff. But then we open ourselves up to school groups.

We hosted a small school group of five or six kindergartners in the past couple of weeks. And they got a tour of the apiary and they learned what honeybees do. We have a partnership with a couple of universities, William Jewel College and Lincoln University, specifically, and their students come out and experience the apiary. And they do lots of volunteering and fundraising for us as well. So it is an ongoing education. We've had volunteers from seven years old, who come out and learn about the bees to 87. There's quite a range and people are just curious and we tell people, "We're learning and let's learn together," which is really fun.

Kelly Scanlon:

You also have an ambassador program, as I understand?

Marion Pierson:

It is an am-bee-sador program.

Kelly Scanlon:

I love it. I'm sorry. It's just ambeessador. I love it.

Marion Pierson:

Yeah, that's the fun part, right? It's just a weird quirky term that we made up, but it was kind of fun, because we want people to become ambassadors for the bees. And so our ambeeesador certification really is just basic education about beekeeping, some terminology familiarization, so that people can just become a little bit more comfortable talking about the bees. And sometimes as you improve just a standard conversation, you can improve your comfort level.

So we do our ambeeesador program and we will certify any group of learners who would like to go through the program. It takes about an hour and then we'll print off the MO HIVES KC ambeeesador certificate. And we've done that for at least four or five dozen people around the city. So it's just a fun certification.

Kelly Scanlon:

Going back to the economy, one of your hive five was the STEM and agriculture is a part of STEM. 15 billion value to US agriculture annually, the bee industry, as I understand it, is that correct?

Marion Pierson:

Yes, yes it is. The largest migration of honeybees is actually in the US. And the largest migration of honeybees actually occurs when the honeybees are transported from the orange groves of Florida, to the almond fields of California, where millions and millions of bees make that journey to help us pollinate the almond crops and other crops. And then the bees migrate to the apple orchards.

So there's a lot to that. We could unpack a lot out of that. Some would say that just doesn't seem like the best way to pollinate our crops. And there are probably other ways to do that. But currently we need a food system that supplies the foods that we need, and that has a whole industry to it as well. So some beekeepers aren't in the business of beekeeping for honey collection, they're in the business of beekeeping so that they can use their hives and their colonies to help pollinate crops. And so they will rent out their pollinators for pollination services. And so there's lots of different ways that beekeeping adds to the economy here in the US. And more people should know that. And if they're interested in entering that field, then they should be able to consider that as a viable career option.

Kelly Scanlon:

And let's go back to the food scarcity for just a moment. You said that, that is another goal of yours, and that's actually being recognized. You've received a grant from the Missouri Department of Agriculture as part of a state program to address food insecurities. Talk with us about that. How are you hoping to solve that problem?

Marion Pierson:

Again, it's, I think it's important for everybody to know every link in the food chain. So to have a secure food chain, you've got to know each link. And pollinators are a critical link in that food chain. So if we bring awareness around that alone, just that pollinators are part of your food chain, which for some people that's new news. That is really brand new news that, "Wow, we really need them for our food chain?" We absolutely do. That is true.

And then we need to just continue to raise crops that are sustainable. We have planted lots of native edibles here on the apiary site, so that people know that some of these native plants can require less water, less care and can be a lot more high yield than some of the cultivated food crops. And so really thinking about our food system in different ways, what is a part of our food system? Could we include more native crops that are edible, don't require as much water and care for them? So again, we just try to tie people to the fact that our existence and the bees existence are truly interdependent.

Kelly Scanlon:

So for anyone who is interested in learning more about your work at MO HICES KC, is your website the best place to go?

Marion Pierson:

Yes, we're at www.mohives.org. And they can find information there. We're also on Facebook and Instagram.

Kelly Scanlon:

Okay. So you can go out to mohives.org and if you'd like to volunteer, if you'd like to just find out more about the work that MO HIVES KC is doing, you can find it all there. It's just fascinating. The things that I learned in the last 30 minutes, it's just incredible. So Dr. Pierson, thank you for all that you are doing and for helping to educate others on the little bee and how vital it is to just about everything we do, it sounds like.

Marion Pierson:

Well, thank you so much. I have to thank our sponsors, Missouri Department of Conservation. We had a summer jobs program that is just winding up this year and we had one last year. And when we can educate the community, it makes our work so fun. And we are having fun.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Dr. Pierson for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. MO HIVES KC promotes thriving bee farms and thriving communities. Using bees, the MO HIVES program, pollinates urban food gardens, cleans up and reposes vacant city lots, creates educational and economic opportunities, and of course it produces honey.

Perhaps the most important, MO HIVES KC creates greater awareness of the role each of us as urban residents can play in the creation, preservation and expansion of the pollinator habitats, that are so important to food production. At Country Club Bank, we are grateful to play a similar part in expanding our thriving community hive. KC is buzzing with opportunities. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City, Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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